Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Some fly stories

I found this interesting site about flies. If you live in Perth, you'll understand why I find that amusing. These little monsters can be quite irritating around the barbies at the park.

Anyway, here are a few interesting facts:

You wouldn't be the first to wonder, "What can we do?"
About the only answer is: support your local CSIRO entomology branch! Their dung beetle programme is working. In a decade or two, the bush-fly numbers will have dropped way down. You'll still see bush flies -- a few here, a few there. But not black clouds of them. Future generations of Australians may wonder what all the fuss was about.

If any place should have an awful fly problem, it's Southern Africa. A close relative of the bush fly is there, the weather is perfect for breeding, and there are plenty of large animals dropping dung. (Even elephants.) But bush flies are scarce.

What stops them is armies of African dung beetles. Many of the beetles are perfectly adapted to elephant dung, horse dung, rhino dung, zebra dung, cow dung -- in fact, to dung from any of the large herbivores. About 2000 species of African beetles feed on herbivore dung.

[Ok, let's just make another comment here: In Southern Africa, animal dung is not the only dung freely available to flies...]

One thing people ask about the dung beetle programme is, "What if the beetles get out of control and start eating other things, like crops?"

No way. To repeat: the mouth parts of dung beetles are so precisely adapted to sucking juice from dung that they can't live on anything else. If they can't find fresh dung, they die. End of story. (Their larvae can chew and tear a bit, but they can't live outside of dung. So larvae are no danger either.)

Other sceptics wonder if we might be importing diseases when we bring in dung beetles. A fair point. But CSIRO has it covered: no beetles are brought in -- only their eggs. And these are all surface-sterilised.

Powerful stuff, isn't it? Maybe I should have packed a few dung-beetles into my suitcases before I moved Down Under...

While writing this post, I suddenly remembered a movie we watched when we were still young. (We actually slipped in, under the age restriction of 16...)

The movie was called "The Fly". This guy got into a transporter thing, similar to the star Trek transporter, and a fly got in there with him. When he rematerialised, the fly was merged into his body, and he became one ugly little monster...

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