Answer Man

Peeling into the annoying secrets of fruit flies

The fruit fly (drosophila) is after your banana.
The fruit fly (drosophila) is after your banana. Provided

Q. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld might say, what’s the deal with fruit flies? It seems like one minute you have none. Then you open, say, a ripe banana. First, one pops out and then within minutes it feels like your kitchen is teeming with them. How can that happen? — P.L, of O’Fallon

A. Remember when God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply? Well, fruit flies have taken that advice to heart ever since — in every sense of the word.

When it comes to reproducing, they can make rabbits look like they’ve taken a vow of chastity by comparison. And, as you hinted at, they love ripened fruit to be fruitful on. (They’re not called fruit flies for nothing, after all.)

According to extermination experts, the hundreds of species of drosophila target fermenting fruit like a heat-seeking missile. If, for example, you leave ripening bananas lying around on the counter, the flies apparently can sense them like a mosquito can home in on a brief whiff of the carbon dioxide you exhale.

Sometimes the bugs can squeeze their way inside your house through the tiniest of cracks or crevices around doors and windows. Perhaps more likely (and far easier), these small but annoying beige or brown creatures with their distinctive red eyes simply hitch a ride on the fruit or overripe tomato itself that you bring in from the store or garden.

Either way, the insect’s life-cycle-on-steroids soon can have lots of the little buggers flying around. Before you even bring the fruit into your house, adult flies may have already laid hundreds of eggs that can hatch in 30 hours. So by the time you get around to eating it, you may be battling a fruit fly air force because it takes as few as seven days for them to go from egg to adult.

The new generation, of course, then immediately infests other fruit because their lifespan may be as short as 25 days so they know they had better party quickly. Soon you may be battling an infestation that might even take refuge in the moldy organic gunk stuck in your garbage disposal and drains or a garbage can where you’ve disposed of food scraps

To avoid them or rid yourself of them, Terminix and Orkin suggest the following: Wash as many fruits and vegetables as you can that you bring into your home. Throw out rotting produce and food scraps in sealed bags placed in tightly covered cans. Refrigerate produce when feasible. Make sure doors and windows are screened and sealed. Dispose of rotting fruit from around fruit trees. Pour bleach down drains.

You can also try setting traps: Cover small cups of vinegar or sugar water with plastic wrap. Then, poke a small hole in the plastic. Like a roach motel, the flies will buzz in and drown in the swimming pool.

However, the next time you start cursing the flies swarming the bananas on your morning Wheaties, remember that the Fly Room in the early 1900s at Columbia University helped Thomas Hunt Morgan discover many basic principles of heredity, including sex-linked inheritance, multiple alleles, and gene mapping. A century later, these seemingly insignificant insects continue to be used by researchers because of their short life cycle and relatively simple makeup. And the scientists know they likely won’t hear from PETA.

Q. My friend tells me there’s a way that when you make a call, you can avoid having your phone number pop up on the receiver’s caller ID machine. But for the life of him, he can’t remember the code. — B.K., of Cahokia

A. It’s no big secret that you can hide your identity if you dial *67 (star-67) before each call you make. They’re called vertical service codes (VSCs) and they were developed by AT&T in the late 1960s and ’70s. Warning: It reportedly does not work with 800 numbers or 911, so don’t try it to call the police on your neighbors as a prank.

Q. A few years ago, nearly two dozen people were sickened by a superbug called Klebsiella. My friends have never heard of this and don’t believe I’m one of the survivors. Can you convince them? — V.T., of Belleville

A. I’m not sure if I can convince them you had it, but I will certainly swear that the National Institutes of Health had a crisis on its hands with Klebsiella for six months in 2011. And if you did survive it, you’re one of the lucky ones. Of the 18 people who harbored the germ, 11 died within a year.

Usually, the Klebsiella bacteria live in the human gut in harmony with a healthy immune system. But since 2000, a Klebsiella pneumoniae (KPC) strain has emerged that resists drugs known as carbapenems, considered one of the last lines of defense.

On June 13, 2011, a woman at the NIH Clinical Center presented with a rare lung disease and was found to have KPC. After being put in isolation, the woman recovered and went home a month later. But although the center swore it had used the best sterile practices, the bug that the woman had been diagnosed with continued to spread to patients in the clinic. Six died of bloodstream infections from it and five others eventually died of the diseases that had brought them to NIH originally.

Finally in December 2011, the 18th and last carrier was found and the outbreak was stopped – for now. But every time those seven survivors came back, they were treated in isolation and hospitalwide rectal tests were made mandatory once a month to make sure no new KPC strain sneaked in.

Today’s trivia

During a tour of Europe in 1932, what musician forgot he wasn’t supposed to refer to a member of royalty by name and introduced a song by hollering at King George V, “This one’s for you, Rex!”

Answer to Saturday’s trivia: Although they say all roads lead to Rome, those roads apparently weren’t paved for a long time. Many historians seem to agree that residents of Florence were the first in Europe to enjoy paved streets and roads as early as 1339, according to journeymart and italianvista.com.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

  Comments