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Bug of the Day — Housefly

We wanted to end the 2014 BugWeek on a high note. So here’s one of the most remarkable creatures on Earth.

It also happens to be one of the most widely distributed, most common, most prolific and most thoroughly despised.

You’ve seen ‘em, you’ve swatted ‘em, you’ve shooed ‘em away from cupcakes, sometimes unsuccessfully.

Yes, it’s the housefly, known scientifically as Musca domestica.

This bug is a member of the Diptera order and the Muscidae family.

Purely from a biological standpoint, the housefly is a marvel. For the human race, it’s also a 24-karat nuisance, and often a menace to public health.

Consider the facts…

Widely distributed? Three words – “worldwide, except Antarctica.”

Common? The housefly is so common that the good folks at the International Union for the
Conservation of Nature don’t even bother evaluating it for their well-known IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

(For comparison purposes, consider that ubiquitous Florida wildlife species including the Eastern gray squirrel, the blue jay, the Eastern mosquitofish and the red imported fire ant all merit a classification as species of “least concern.”)

Prolific? Way back in 1911, entomologist C.F. Hodge supposedly estimated that if one pair of houseflies began reproducing in April and every one of their offspring survived and reproduced, by August there would be so many flies that THE ENTIRE PLANET would be covered 47 feet deep in houseflies. (So far, the BugWeek Web Team hasn’t been able to get its hands on the original publication where that statistic supposedly appeared, so take the assertion with a grain of salt.)

Thoroughly despised? Hey, you don’t see David Cronenberg making monster movies called The Zebra Swallowtail or The Mud Dauber Wasp, now do you? No, but his 1986 version of The Fly is arguably the greatest entomologically based horror flick ever made, in no small part due to the disgusting and disturbing living habits of its namesake.

Shucks, Cronenberg didn’t even cover the fact that the housefly is known to transmit more than 100 pathogens that can cause disease (including salmonellosis, typhoid, cholera, anthrax and tuberculosis), that excrement is one of its favorite food sources, that it poops constantly or that it’s just as happy living in a horse stable or hog farm as your home. Oh, and some housefly strains have developed resistance to popular pesticides going all the way back to DDT, organophosphate and lindane, and including currently used compounds such as imidacloprid, cyromazine, DDVP and permethrin.

You can learn more about the housefly at this Featured Creatures document for the UF/IFAS Department of Entomology and Nematology.

As for the BugWeek Web Team, we’re going to check the classified ads for cheap snow shovels… just in case that 47-feet-deep thing turns out to be true.