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New York town will have a hard time contending with plague of flies

By Walter Jowers

JULY 3, 2000:  Last week, Naples, N.Y., was hit with a whopping-big swarm of flies. "It's just a horror, a plague. It's biblical," Naples resident Ervin Paulsen told a local television station, NewsSource 13. I don't claim to be a bug expert, but I'm pretty sure of this Where there are swarms of flies, there's either a load of crap or something dead nearby.

Don't you know, in Naples, it turned out to be a load of crap. Back in May, local farmer Mark Adams spread hundreds of tons of chicken manure over his 18-acre farm. For the next few weeks, the weather was damp, creating ideal conditions for a big fly hatch.

"When you come home from work," Paulsen said, "your whole life is flies. Taping up windows, taping up doors, taping up chimneys. Fly swatters, pest strips, vacuuming, cleaning counters. You do fly work until you go to bed."

Sorry, Paulsen. It's probably going to get worse before it gets better. Your typical housefly lasts about one to five months, and a busy girl fly can lay 150 or so eggs in a month's time.

Another ugly truth: A man's best fly-killing efforts are meaningless. Some years back, a guy wrote to Cecil Adams, author of the always entertaining syndicated column "The Straight Dope." The guy confessed to Adams that he had been obsessed with killing flies all his life. He estimated how many flies he had killed and asked Adams to calculate how many flies had never been born because of his efforts. Adams checked with bug experts and learned that no matter how many flies this guy had killed, there had been no meaningful change in the world's fly population. In nature, the rule is: At any given time, there are about as many flies as there can be. If you kill a bunch of flies over here, that just leaves more habitat for the flies over there.

Nature is funny that way. For instance, alligator hunting has actually led to an increase in the alligator population, because adult gators like nothing better than eating baby gators. Kill the big gators, turn 'em into belts and shoes, and more baby gators get to grow up.

Recently, a friend told me about an unhappy day in his goat pen. Some years back, his nanny goat was pregnant. He checked her every morning, anticipating the blessed event. One morning, he went out to the pen, and sure enough, the nanny goat had had two babies. But the billy goat, standing there red-bearded, had clearly eaten them right up. This made my friend mad, so he hauled off and smacked the billy goat. You know the billy goat had to be thinking, "What was that for? I'm a goat, for crying out loud. We do this kind of thing all the time...."

The Naples fly problem is just going to have to run its course. However, this mini-plague offers a great opportunity to get the children away from the TV and into some real-life action. I say teach those kids to catch flies. That'll improve their real-world, three-dimensional hand-eye coordination, and it'll serve as a gateway to mastering handwashing skills, which are clearly lacking these days.

Back in my day, a boy knew how to catch a fly. Here's the routine: You cup your hand, and sneak it up slowly, behind and slightly above the fly. That's because the fly will take off with a little backwards leap. (Didn't know that, did you?) Then you bring the hand down quick and grab the fly at the top of his leap. For maximum enjoyment, shake the fly around like a bead in a baby's rattle, until he's all drunk and disoriented. Then throw him down and watch him walk around in circles for a few seconds before you finish him off. Now go wash your hands, with soap and warm water, for at least 20 seconds.

For kids who don't want to get their hands dirty, I know there is a battery-powered fly swatter on the market. It's sold in the toy department of major discount retailers, and it's clearly marked, "NOT A TOY." I saw one of these in action just the other day. A boy child had it, brandishing it at his little brother. The boys' mother told me that it delivered a little shock, enough to bring down a fly, and if it were applied to flesh long enough, it would leave a little burn mark. Clearly, this device is an opportunity for some lawyers to make a few bucks.

Meanwhile, back in Naples, some residents say they're considering legal action against Adams. Although the farmer is already offering to pay a pest control company to kill flies in neighbors' houses, he says he abided by all the pertinent environmental regulations when he spread the all-natural chicken manure back in May.


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