Mark Twain had a thing for flies and it was no love affair.
Attributed to him are multiple quotes that leave no doubt about how he felt about these flying fiends. In a letter to Albert Paine in 1910, Twain notes that he would prefer to have “ten snakes in the house than one fly.”
Mark did not mellow as he aged. In 1927, he quipped: “Nothing is made in vain, but the fly came near it.”
When not writing, Twain made it clear that he enjoyed other activities relative to the flies in his midst. In a letter to Willard M. White, the inventor of a portable fly net frame, he confided that “It is a rare thing to worry a fly with, too. A fly will stand off and curse this invention till language utterly fails him. I have seen them do it hundreds of times. I like to dine in the air on the back porch in summer, and so I would not be without this portable net for anything; when you have got it hoisted, the flies have to wait for the second table. We shall see the summer day come when we shall all sit under our nets in church and slumber peacefully, while the discomfited flies club together and take it out of the minister. There are heaps of ways of getting priceless enjoyment out of these charming things, if I had time to point them out and dilated on them a little.”
Not everyone felt as Twain did. Aristotle is believed to have enjoyed watching flies, and Shakespeare’s King Lear spoke highly of them. Harvard entomologist Ensign Evans, in his book Life on a Little Known Planet, called them “gruesomely delightful,” and observed that “There is much more to the story than merely flying around and looking for a mate or a source of food.”
Fall is the time of year for fly watching. As the temperatures cool, flies will be coming into your home for warmth and shelter. Their fate will be death or hibernation, but either way, their movements will slow down and they will seem groggy compared with their zippy summer selves. Use their sluggishness to do a little learning on house-dwelling fly varieties.
With a lifespan of only up to 25 days, house flies won’t be around for much longer once the cold settles in. These small and grey flies, which won’t make it through the winter, have stripes on their thorax. Don’t look too close or let them linger, as they can transmit more than 65 different diseases.
Bluebottle flies are larger and hairier than house flies, while greenbottle flies are those metallic green flies that have a loud and boisterous buzz. Cluster flies are long and lean with yellow hairs and won’t generally land on food. They buzz desperately at the window hoping that you will let them out. Faceflies are the ones that will overwinter after the house flies die off and will thrive in the cracks and crevices of your home till the warm weather returns.
This assemblage of houseguests that may come calling this fall will likely test your patience. They may not be as enjoyable as your summer visitors. However these flying callers make your feel, remember your manners for guests and Benjamin Franklin’s advice for keeping all that visit entertained, “If you wou’d have guest merry with your cheer, Be so yourself, or so at least appear.”
Suzan Bellincampi is director of the Felix Neck Wildlife Sanctuary in Edgartown.