Lifestyle

You, me and the fruit fly | Jan's Journal

Not one person is immune from this shocking occurrence, unless you live in Antarctica.

Everyday around the globe, somewhere it’s happening — probably in a seemingly innocent kitchen, in broad daylight. You won’t notice before reading this article, but you will care when you learn the whole sordid truth — and you will remember.

Drosophila melanogaster (which, according to Wikipedia, is Greek for "dark bellied dew lover") plagues us in the summer. We complacently accept that it will happen, which prompted me to do a little research on this universal subject: Yes, the common fruit fly, a.k.a. the vinegar fly.

Summer is a blessed season enriched with fresh fruit and vegetables. Allowing produce to ripen on the counter was such a normal activity that I didn’t think about leaving it there while we were gone for a few days. Upon returning, I bumped the fruit and a swarm of fruit flies overwhelmed the kitchen. Completely disgusted, I threw away the fruit, while ignorantly believing that this solved the problem.

However, it became obvious that eliminating this infestation was no small undertaking. Observing them (with a nauseated grimace on my face) was necessary to discover their place of origin. Especially when I unintentionally witnessed two flies merged together — for a very long time. (Truly, I have more important things to do.) Repulsed, yet admittedly fascinated at the same time, I watched horror struck at what activity I instinctually knew was taking place.

Sometimes, ignorance is bliss, and this is that moment. However, for the sake of Drosophila melanogaster everywhere, I persevered, and reluctantly came to respect the common fruit fly after reading about them on a variety of Web sites: Animal Diversity Web, www.everything.com and the www.scapest.com.

According to the Stanford University news service, an online atlas and a database of the Drosophila nervous system, there are documented similarities between the behavior of the male fruit fly and a human man:

• They are drawn toward the smell of any food source.

• They will mate almost indiscriminately with any individual of the opposite sex.

• The male will follow his love interest around and tap her leg. If he gets the go ahead, he proceeds to other more intimate acts, hopefully ending with copulation. (The entire process lasts about 30 minutes.)

• There is a ritual to the courtship, and if the first steps are rushed, the female won’t find him attractive, and will move away from him.

Interestingly, there is a gigantic scientific finding based on the genetic code of this little, one-eighth of an inch red-eyed fly. Apparently, in 1910, Thomas H. Morgan used fruit flies to provide the first proof that the chromosomal theory of inheritance is correct. In other words, chromosomes are the carriers of genetic information. “The fruit fly is a model organism whose basic cellular functions are very similar to what they are in people,” said Bruce S. Baker, the Dr. Morris Herzstein Professor in Biology at Stanford and co-author of the nature study.

If you’ve ever wondered why your house is suddenly overpopulated with fruit flies, then keep reading. Just a few more tidbits for you to be acquainted with to put the gross factor back into play:

• A single pair of fruit flies can produce hundreds of offspring within a couple of weeks.

• Offspring become sexually mature within one week.

• They mate more than once and deposit an egg mass of about 500 eggs on or near food sources.

• Eggs emerge in approximately 30 hours.

• The entire life cycle can be complete in eight days.

• Females can lay up to 2,000 eggs in a lifetime.

• About 75 percent of known human disease genes have a recognizable match in the genetic code of fruit flies. This allows scientists to use the fruit flies for a genetic model for several human diseases such as Parkinson's, Huntington’s and Alzheimer’s.

The only way to keep your house free of fruit flies is to eliminate any moist and rotting produce. They don’t like the cold either, so until the fall settles in, they’re here to breed.

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