FRUIT FLY FACTS
by Clarence Brown
American Reporter Correspondent
SEATTLE, Wash. -– Say the above head three times rapidly, and if you do not say Flute Fry Flax, read on.
Other pronunciation hurdles to weed out the unworthy: Drosophila, the genus of the little critters (from Greek drosos, "dew") and Dobzhansky, the Ukrainian-American scientist who used them for his revolutionary research into genetic inheritance.
Dr. Soup, with his usual air of authority assured me that it was the monk Gregor Mendel, the Columbus of genetic research, who had a circus of trained fruit flies doing back flips under his microscope, but that is wrong. It was peas the good father had, and they just lay there, answering questions.
Why am I telling you all this? Because, even as I type, fruit flies are all over the screen, trying to see whether a comma tastes anything like the cantaloup that they just swarmed over upstairs in the kitchen.
We have fruit flies the way some people have mice. Huck the cat keeps us fairly mouse-free, but every attempt to interest him in the genus Drosophila has met with incredulous amusement.
The problem is widespread. There is even a website devoted to the question of how to deal with these pests.
One answer: wash out beer and soda cans or bottles before discarding them into the recycle bin.
Another: pour a bit of red wine into a saucer, cover with plastic wrap, and punch a small hole in the wrap. Flies (it says here) can get in but not out. Forget this, which I have tried. My flies laugh so hard at this transparently obvious trick that they never go anywhere near the hole.
Hearing that the Nader campaign had adopted Drosophila as its mascot, I dispatched Dr. Soup to look into this.
Here is his report:
"I found Ralphy in a hammock eating watermelon and almost black with the fruit flies that covered him, giddy with disbelief in their luck.
"Why was the fruit fly any match for symbols like the donkey and elephant?
"He'd tried donkeys and elephants, he said, but both of them fell through the little hole in the plastic wrap and drowned in a spoonful of sherry. Only the fruit fly had the good sense, or caution, or cunning, to wait for the watermelon.
"While I was at it, I asked a question that I hoped would produce an answer that I could understand. Why the photo-op with the hammock? He looked at me pityingly. To influence voters in the swing states, he said. How long have you been a political reporter?
"But why the fruit fly as his symbol? Did I know, he asked, of a more insidious pest? I gave up." Back in my kitchen, I tried a solution familiar to me from the days when
I worked in a warehouse filled with every sort of flying insect: fly paper. Amazingly, the grocery store where we shop had this in stock. I got a coil, unfurled it over the scrap basket on the counter next to the sink, and waited for the pleasure of watching them alight on it, never to fly again.
This was only partly successful. Some of the little creatures did die, but from laughing. From derision, not from adhesion.
I need hardly add that I look forward to hearing from anyone who has ever suffered from, and solved, this problem.
AR Correspondent Clarence Brown is a cartoonist, writer, and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Princeton University.