December 22, 2005

‘Tis the season to swat flies..

By James Regan

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australians would be smart to keep their
mouths shut and clothes on this holiday season.

Christmas comes at the height of summer Down Under and
summer brings flies -- billions of them.

The silent bush flies travel in swarms this time of year,
from the stark outback to beachside towns, seeking refuge from
the sizzling sun in places warm and moist: that often means
people's mouths, noses, ears, get the picture?

"Australia has about 20,000 species of flies that provide a
service to the environment by recycling nutrients, but the bush
fly is the one bad apple when it comes to humans," says
entomologist David Yeates of the government's Commonwealth
Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.

A three-year drought across much of Australia that finally
broke this year gave Australians a reprieve in Christmas's past
from the pesky, though harmless bush fly, which is most
prolific along the coast after a rainy spring.

"Females can lay lots of eggs, probably hundreds given the
right conditions," Yeates says.

In a country that posts "beware of crocodiles" signs on
highways and where even city folk are wary of leaving their
shoes outside fearing deadly spiders will crawl inside, the
bush fly ranks as a featherweight.

Yeates says he has never heard of anyone getting sick from
swallowing too many flies, though there have been some cases of
eye infections.

"I can't tell you how they taste because I spit them out as
soon as I feel one walking on my tongue," said 10-year-old
Christine Martin, who had tired of the relentless swatting
after a day on Sydney's Manly beach.

How to spend a fly-free yuletide? Some suggest tying a damp
cloth around the forehead so the flies take up residence there
instead of in darker bodily zones.

Others throw fashion to the wind and don wide-brimmed hats
festooned with wine corks, a swatting machine if you will.
These can be accessorized with mosquito meshing or clear
cellophane wrap.

By the start of autumn, around March, most of the flies are
dead or soon will be. As adults, the bush fly only lives for a
week at best.

"They don't do so well come the end of summer, being
cold-blooded animals relying on environmental heat to keep
their energy levels up," says Yeates.