There is a housefly

There is a housefly, flying around in the kitchen. There is an irony here. Despite its name and its reputation, the ‘common’ housefly, Musca domestica, has been very uncommon in houses of late. I was saying this, just last night, on the phone to my Dad. He remembered them by the swarm when, as a child, a lifetime ago, he lived in London. Where have they gone?

The ‘lesser’ housefly Fannia canicaris, is still frequent, zigzagging madly underneath the hanging lampshade, but it is not attracted to food and has never been so horribly implicated in disease spread. Why has it survived so well, but the ‘common’ has all but vanished?

We live in a modern urban environment these days, sterilized, hermetically sealed, cut off from wild nature out there. Unless you live on a farm, or in a cottage deep in farming country, you are unlikely to have M. domestica buzzing around the food plates. Refrigerators, Tupperware and cling film can now keep the germ-ridden flies away from our food, but why have they declined so?
Modern sewage disposal appears to have done for the housefly in towns and cities. Horse-drawn transport, with its associated waste product, is no longer the norm here either. Farmyards and manure heaps are now the fly’s only breeding grounds and increasing rural remoteness takes the flies further and further from our metropolitan centres.

Meanwhilethe ‘lesser’ breeds everywhere in the garden soil, quietly scavengingwhatever organic decay it can find. It comes into homes, not attracted by food, but by the promise of an aerial territory under the hanging light. In the wild, Fannia species select a sweeping tree bough as the roof of their territory and patrol left and right to maintain their air space.

The ‘lesser’ remains common in cities. The ‘common’ becomes uncommon enough to be worthy of note, like this blog for example.

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