Fruit Fly Invasion

In the science world of increasingly powerful microscopes and ever-smaller specimens, fruit flies have become laboratory necessities because of their very short life spans, enormous reproductive abilities and genetic similarities to humans. Millions of fruit flies give their lives every year to any of a wide variety of research projects. Noble indeed, but unless you choose your friends according to your genome compatibility, these aren’t exactly the characteristics you’d look for in a house guest. Hovering over late-summer fruits and veggies, they seem to come from nowhere (harkening the old “spontaneous generation” theory that we all had to learn about in 8th grade biology) and they are just about impossible to swat, spray, catch or otherwise get rid of as they multiply fruitfully in your fruit. Here at Aristocrat, we recently decided that in the interest of enjoying our nectarines in peace while furthering the good of all humanity, we would donate our kitchen, fruit flies and all, to science. However, in a final, last-ditch, “what-the-heck” effort to maintain some semblance of normalcy, we opted to see if there might be some solution instead. Turns out we can keep our kitchen! (Okay, so we’re really just kidding about the kitchen. The far-less-entertaining truth is that we’re licensed in indoor pest control.) Here’s the scoop:

Fruit flies can quickly become an infestation problem in your home as they can lay up to 500 microscopic eggs in their eight day life cycle. Their favorite place to leave the eggs is in the rotting portions of fresh fruit or vegetable matter so that the larvae, once hatched, will have something to eat. Also known as vinegar flies, grape flies or pomace flies, they are about three millimeters long with tan and black bodies and red eyes. They are not a vector of any specific diseases but because of their attraction to drains, garbage and other waste, they can relocate germs found here and transmit them to humans via food, drink, dishes, etc. While they seem to come right in your front door with the groceries, it is more likely that they flew in while the door was open rather than hitching a free ride on your bananas. These little critters are everywhere but grocery stores tend to sell fruits that are a bit too unripe for their tastes.

Unfortunately, getting rid of them, while not expensive, is going to be somewhat time-consuming and tedious. All potential breeding grounds in your home or office must be located and cleaned up. Here is what to check for:

Check window screens, doors and walls, looking for and repairing any cracks, tears, holes or other routes of entry for the insects. It won’t take a very large hole to let a few in so you’ll have to look close. Check for areas of stagnation such as damp mops, drain pans under refrigerators or de-humidifiers, sump pump holes in the basement, wet areas in the garage or laundry room. Check drains by taping a plastic bag over the drain at night and checking it for insects in the morning. Or skip the checking and just put a drain-cleaning gel in all your drains as a precaution. They breed in the scum along the sides of the drain, so pouring bleach down the drain won’t fix the problem as it doesn’t stick long enough to remove the scum.Look for rotting food, even little bits or smears. Check in cabinets for rotting potatoes or onions, keep recycling bins and garbage cans and lids clean, look for spills under appliances, vacuum under the furniture (even lift the “feet” and vacuum beneath), keep produce in the refrigerator and rinse and air-dry any empty food containers before you put them into the recycling bin. Inspect indoor potted plants for rotting soil or organic matter. Spray with insecticide or remove the plant, depending on the level of the infestation.

This list is probably not complete as all homes have different potential breeding grounds for fruit flies, however, it should help you to think about your own home and what other areas you may need to check.

Once you have found the breeding grounds, be sure you have fixed the source of the problem, such as a water leak, then spray the area with pyrethrum-based insecticide. Allow the insecticide to dry then clean the area. If the area is somewhere that is difficult to reach, for example, under your washing machine, you may want to leave a bit of spray behind to take care of any stragglers. Re-spray the cleaned area, allow to dry, then put the area back as it was. Be sure that any rags, mops or paper towels that you use to clean the breeding grounds are not disposed of in your indoor trash. Put them in a plastic trash bag, tie it off and get it out of your house!

Once you’ve dealt with the big issues, you can catch the remaining fruit flies with a simple, home-made trap. Using any jar, bottle or what have you, place a splash of cider vinegar inside and then on top tape into place a paper funnel. (You can make one with scrap paper, scissors and tape and seal it around the mouth of the jar to ensure a tight fit.) Make sure that the hole in the bottom of the funnel is fairly tight so that fruit flies “check in but they don’t check out!” Seems they can’t figure out how to get back out of the funnel but if the hole is too big, they will float right back out. Now, if you know someone who has a reptilian pet (or maybe you have one), they’d love to have your collected fruit flies. Otherwise, when you are ready to dispose of your trap, quickly but carefully put the whole thing into a plastic garbage bag (be certain that it has no holes) and tie off the bag. To collect multiple traps, put one in the bag and make a low knot so you still have room to put in the next trap and tie it again. Keep going, in essence, making a chain of tied-off traps, until you have either collected all your traps or have run out of bag space. Put the bag outside as soon as possible. Now you can enjoy your fruits in peace!

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