The bush loves to throw a curveball out there every now and again. For the past few weeks there has been a mini fly epidemic and the little pests have been driving some of us to distraction and beyond. My automatic response to a buzzing fly is to swat it violently into another dimension but that doesn’t resonate so well on sunlit afternoons when waxing lyrically about the African bushveld. As a result I’ve undertaken to educate myself on their usefulness and put some of my pteronarcophobia at rest whilst trying to ignore them on game drive. I’ve also exchanged my black Londolozi cap for a stone one (convinced that they prefer darker colours) and I avoid the sodic areas where they are so prolific at the moment. Jerry doesn’t subscribe to my colour theory and at least I’m drawing some satisfaction in watching the squadrons menace his black cap.
The basic question that is often asked about flies is – do they have any use? Quoting Jonas Salk (he famously developed the first polio vaccine):
“If all insects on Earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on
Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth,
within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.”
That’s a very philosophical way to address the basic usefulness of the fly but it’s sadly accurate when suggesting that flies are more purposeful on the blue marble than the average human. With over 120 000 species found on all 7 continents they are a critical part of the food web as well as key scavengers breaking down dead organic material. That they’ve bought disease and pestilence to man throughout our entire history should probably have them cheered on by every other organism that we’ve bought to the brink of disaster along with ourselves.
The foodweb (and the grateful amphibians, spiders, birds etc) aside, I managed to find a few other interesting applications of the fly. Maggot therapy involves popping disinfected fly larvae (maggots) into human wounds for the purpose of eating away the dead flesh and disinfecting the wound. It’s been used like this for centuries by indigenous cultures such as the aboriginals, but in modern times found its’ way into medical uses from American Civil war surgeons to modern treatments for patients struggling with antibiotic resistant infections.
Forensic entomology is also a science with applications in the solving of crimes. I’ve often joked that the trackers of Londolozi are like CSI, discovering grizzly carcasses and solving the riddle of whodunnit and when, but theoretically armed with the knowledge of blowfly larvae size, I could trump Jerry and leap off the LandRover with my maggot callipers, determine the size of the wriggly little thing and then comparing it against a chart of maggot size versus age make an accurate pronouncement of time of death. It would help if the ‘whodunnit’ aspect of the crime wasn’t lying in the shade nearby.
Searching for fly positives provided a few unexpected chuckles. I found one website selling ‘flypower kits’ which basically help you put together a model aeroplane that involves gluing bottle flies on special mountings to the lightweight wings. Apparently the crafts are attracted to light and ethics aside it would be a fairly remarkable exercise and an improbable hobby if I could actually catch one.
Anyway so much for the flies – they’ll be gone soon enough but it’s the other flying that’s a bit worrying. If I think carefully about the Januaries in my life I get the sense of them having been long languid months. Not this one; January 2014 scooted by like it was being chased by a pack of wild dogs. This apparently is an age related phenomenon and the adage about time getting faster as you get older may have something to it. At Londolozi it may also be true that ‘time flies when you are having fun’ and there hasn’t been a January in the lodge quite like this one for a long time.
Welcome February – try not to stick around!
Written by Tom Imrie