yes, now we need to talk about flies

Last night was the one and only Vice Presidential debate.

It had everything we’ve come to expect: sharp barbs and side-eyes, answering questions that weren’t asked, and constantly running over the allotted time.

But there was quite a bit of buzz about a surprise guest appearance:

NPR’s headline this morning.

Yes, a fly landed on the Vice President’s head.

People on social media had many questions that night. After circumventing the plexiglass barriers and refusing to wear a mask over it’s proboscis, would the fly need to quarantine for 14 days? Would it be given equal time for answers as the other candidates? Would it prefer left-wing policies, right-winged, or be content to just have a balance of both wings? (And of course there were other questions and comments that aren’t fit to print here).

Now, before you swarm me with partisan accusations, and lest you think flies are trying to make a political point, recall that President Obama also had a run-in with a fly:

Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg was also visited by some winged insect during the presidential primary debates. Both Mayor Pete and current Vice President Pence being Hoosiers, I thought the insect quip of the night goes to this guy:

To be honest, I was simply happy for a moment of levity in an otherwise contentious and difficult time for our nation. If nothing else, it is simple reminder that we inhabit and are sustained by a living, breathing world.

In fact, the candidates were asked directly about about the climate crisis, and discussed wildfires, hurricanes, and soil & water quality. Voters should listen to the responses that were given.

BUTpeople are talking about flies! So yes, I’m happy to quickly talk about flies before the news cycle moves on!!!

“True flies” are insects in the order Diptera. Most adult insects have two sets of wings, but in Dipterans, the 2nd set has been reduced to knubs called “halteres” which they use as sensory organs for their acrobatic flight.

Nearly 1,000,000 species of flies are though to exist, though only 1/8 of these have been formally described by scientists.

We are all pretty familiar with house flies, and perhaps fruit flies. But there are so many more! Let me share a few photos of our fly “candidates” that I’m familiar with.

(After consulting with my lizard – err, I mean, my lawyer – I need to add this note: this post does not constitute an endorsement of any Dipteran family, sub-family, genus, or species).

Candidate #1 is a “hover fly,” from the fly family Syrphidae. One species of hover fly appears in large numbers in late summer to annoyingly but harmlessly cover exposed legs and arms. They are erroneously referred to as “sweat bees” but they are usually just small hover flies.

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Yellowjacket Hover Fly (Melesia virginiensis)

This hover fly, however, is substantially larger than the commonest species, and is the size and coloration of a yellow jacket wasp. Nice trick! It’s policy positions are often painted as extreme and dangerous, but it’s actually no revolutionary. It’s harmless, really. This one fooled me for a couple seconds before I got a closer look and a photo. Not everyone is as they appear!

Candidate #2 I found at home, a Robber Fly (aka Assassin Fly) from the family Asilidae. Don’t be fooled… if you are a small house fly, or frankly anything small, you’d better watch out for this one.

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This one doesn’t mind being painted as nasty and vicious – it is. It bides its time, then always goes for the jugular. Don’t expect it to play by gentlemanly norms and standards, it will do whatever it takes to win. Say what you will, but you can’t paint it as duplicitous.

Candidate #3 is a species of Bot Fly from the family Oestridae that I found here at work.

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Hmmm… just another House Fly-looking thing, right? Small, drab, harmless, perhaps a little homely. Hey look, it even provides pollinator services by visiting flowers! I’ll just vote for this one, it’s good enough.

WRONG! This sleepy thing is actually a mammal parasite. Why do you vote for policies that harm your own people?! I’ll never get it.

(Seriously though, there is only one species in the Americas that regularly parasitizes humans, it’s in the tropical regions only).

Ok, on to Candidate #4: the Crane Fly, from the family Tipulidae. Photographed here on my garage door.

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WHAT?!!! That’s a giant 2″ mosquito! Swat it! Certainly don’t vote for it! It will suck our national coffers dry and prey on your children!

Or… not. Sure it’s big and conspicuous. You may find one flying around in your house. But they can’t hurt you, at all. Once your pulse recovers to a normal speed, you might even appreciate it’s elegance. The other day when I went for a run, the lawn was filled with many hundreds of these rising up out of the grass.

Don’t judge everything by its appearance. Crane flies are pretty slow, ungainly fliers. Just catch it in a big plastic bag and let it outside.

You may be asking… what is the meaning of all these flies? Were they planted (or on plants?) Are they tiny government surveillance drones? Were they intentionally infected with COVID-19 and released into the room? Is it all a metaphor, a harbinger of the feast or famine to come in these Last Days?

Really, I’m just an ecologist from rural Indiana. I’m not being paid off by “Big Diptera.” Please trust me when I say this post is not meant to be a Rorschach-test with hidden messages about candidates, it’s just an opportunity that came along in an unexpected moment.

Truly, I made it up on the fly.

9 Replies to “yes, now we need to talk about flies”

    • Adam Thada Post author

      Thanks Debbie. It’s not the first time someone has told me “Only you…” although normally the sentence doesn’t end with a compliment 😉

      Reply
  1. Sister Edith Schneider

    Have to admit, Adam, I didn’t read the whole long column about flies, but I enjoyed your sense of humor, or seeing the humor in an otherwise serious or insane conversation. I never noticed the fly – until this morning. But I’m surprised it didn’t get in his mouth, since his math or sense of timing didn’t seem to be too accurate.

    Reply

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