Dogs, cats, guinea pigs or fruit flies?

January 26, 2004

Ever since my cat died last year, I have been weighing the pros and cons of getting another pet. There is part of me that enjoys being able to leave town without making arrangements for an animal or having the freedom to lay clothes out on the bed without having them slept upon by a furry, but shedding, feline. On the other hand, I do miss the pure fun of having an animal in the house and you can always blame all unexplained noises of things that go bump in the night on your dog or cat.

While I am debating this issue, I received a large herd of pets who took up residence in my house. Way back before Thanksgiving, I brought home some fruit that must have been chock full of the larvae of fruit flies. The fruit was tossed out very soon but its little passengers remained.


According to my research, most of this species have a short life cycle, less than two weeks at room temperature. The only thing I can figure out to explain the longevity of their stay is that my fruit flies are extremely happy in this environment and although they may only live for a couple of weeks, they use their time fruitfully (sorry for the pun) in breeding and producing more fruit flies.

When my oldest sister was taking a biology course in college, she studied gnats of some variety and talked about there being brown-eyed and red-eyed species. According to my studies on this subject, gnats can be any member of several species of small flies that annoy humans, including fruit flies. Now I wish I had paid more attention to her talk about their eyes and how one could determine the eye color of such tiny insects. On the other hand, how much would it help to know if my home had been infested with brown-eyed or red-eyed varmints?

Since there are too many fruit flies to count and I am going on the theory that they don't live very long, I am not obligated to name each and every one. Naming changes the whole situation. When my daughter was a toddler, she used to name our Thanksgiving turkeys and as I was ready to bake the bird, she would say, "Goodbye, Timothy, you have to go in the oven now." There is a big difference between baking an unnamed turkey and sealing the fate of Timothy. So, I have not named my herd of fruit flies because my aim is to extinguish them from my life.

My main entertainment for the past two months has been trying to catch these little mites by clapping my hands as they fly by. This is not an efficient method of removal. So far the score stands: Fruit flies, 62, Home Team, 0. However, to look on the bright side, this invasion of gnats has made me a tidier housekeeper. I have been going on the theory that they must live on some type of diet so have kept my dishes clean, the counter tops scrubbed and even the floors free of debris. This has not altered the number in any way - in fact, they have thrived in a clean house.

Some friends suggested that perhaps they could be coming up from the drains in the kitchen and bathroom. Their solution was that I should put baking soda down the drains followed by vinegar. After following these instructions, I still have fruit flies although perhaps not quite as many. But the beauty of this treatment is that with all the bubbling and fizzing this combination creates, it feels like a person is doing something about the problem.

The fruit flies may outlast me but at least with my vinegar and soda in hand, I am still in the fight.

Katherine E. Orton is a free-lance writer living in Danville.|1/25/04***

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