Flies are fascinating creatures. Or, certainly Natural History Museum’s resident dipterologist (fly expert) Erica McAlister made it seem that way on The Museum of Curiosity, broadcast by BBC Radio 4 earlier in the week.
McAlister, who looks after the world’s largest collection of dead flies, shared her passion for the two winged insects and the eco-system of a cow pat with historian of the obscure, Dr Jan Bondeson and the fictitious Pub Landlord Al Murray. Hosts Jimmy Carr and Prof John Lloyd C.B.E. were equally enthused by McAlister’s far-reaching knowledge of flies and their poo preferences.
It was established that different fly species are attracted to different types of poo, and others are highly choosy concerning the consistency of their supper. McAlister studied which types of flies prefer a sloppy cow pat or one hardened by the sun by flicking an elastic band and observing the ensuing damage. More research it seems is needed in order to understand more about British cow pat communities, though I’m not sure I’ll be the one volunteering to find out which species live in and on poo.
It is important to note that there is a difference between and insect and a bug. A bug is a type of insect but not all flies are insects. An insect is not a bug. Bugs have two pairs of wings and sucking mouth parts. Flies have one long tube and either one pair or no pairs of wings. Few groups of flies are pests and flies are beneficial to the environment because they eat faeces and break down dead bodies. When Australia was first colonised cattle was shipped from Europe and the ranches soon became awash with slurry because there was no indigenous fly species to clear up the poo. Flies are also important pollinators as flies can get in places that bees can’t.
The House fly is a pest species which spread a number of diseases including salmonellosis, typhoid, cholera and tuberculosis. Fruit flies can breed in unclean drains and cleaning utensils. Both the Horse fly and Blandford fly have a vicious bite and should be avoided at all costs.
Some fly species have very funny names. The Charlie Chaplin Fly is named in honor of the great silent movie comedian, Charlie Chaplin, “because of the curious tendency of this fly to die with its midlegs in a bandy-legged position”
The Museum of Curiosity is broadcast every Monday BBC Radio 4, 6:30PM.