The Secret Life of Flies by Erica McAlister

The Secret Life of Flies by Erica McAlister
Buzzing.

Flies are bloody disgusting things and a species we have a mild phobia of. But in The Secret Life of Flies, entomologist Erica McAlister sets out to dispel many negative notions surrounding the bizarre buzzing creatures.

Dr. McAlister is the Senior Curator for Diptera and Siphonaptera (indeed) at the Natural History Museum in London. Her 2017 is an ode to the fly – the alien-like insects that have plagued your very existence for decades.

But if you want to know why they’re not as superfluous and vile as you think, this enlightening book is for you.

The Secret Life of Flies

From a human perspective, there’s no overcoming how flies look and sound positively disgusting. Additionally, some of their antics are horrifying.

We tend to think of flies as angry, mindless creatures that barge into situations raging with barely contained animal instincts.

The moment you hear that low buzzing noise, you may look in disgust to swat the bloody thing away from you. And for many of us, that’s about as much as we ever deal with the things.

They fly into your house during summer, get stuck, and you try and waft the thing out as it buzzes around your head. Most of us curse how the damn things even exist.

But Dr. McAlister, over 248 pages, discusses the colossal range of the creatures. And a picture emerges of an exotic species with a myriad of personalities and natural instincts.

Some flies don’t have wings, others have eyes on stalks, rotating genitals, some will suck your blood (yes, the dreaded mosquito), and others will dance to earn a living.

Her accounts of the creatures she’s fascinated with are, of course, backed up with her expertise on the subject. So although sympathetic to flies, she’s also aware of some of their unpleasant characteristics – this is no sycophantic account.

Yet the main revelations here are about the bizarre daily lives of these winged insects. For most of us, they flit in and out of our more complex existences in a buzz of irritating activity.

But away from human eyes, they’re busy at work with some basic instincts. Reproduction, eat, and fly.

It’s the sheer range of the species that’ll leave you in awe. Some flies survive in the sea. Others are almost 6,000 feet at the bottom of Lake Baikal in Russia. Some flies can even hack it in Antarctica.

McAlister relates it all with engrossing prose, making the book a fantastic little treasure trove for nature enthusiasts keen to learn a bit more about these buzzy beings.

Flights of Fancy

Despite her earnest attempts to dispel some myths, there’s no denying a lot of flies are positively revolting.

David Cronenberg’s 1986 body horror gore-fest The Fly played on that. Jeff Goldblum was on terrific form as the genius scientist Seth Brundle who inadvertently triggers off a horrific process. The viewer must then watch his grotesque transformation into a fly-like insect.

Flies are alien-like creatures. We’re so busy looking for something utterly insane on other planets, we forget diminutive freaks are in abundance on Earth.

Take the notorious botfly and its revolting larvae (do note, the below investigation has highly disturbing parts).

Not all flies will make you want to vomit. But we hesitate to suggest any of them are beautiful in the way, for instance, a flock of birds can be.

You won’t marvel at a swarm of diseased blue bottles as they surge along in the same way you’ll admire a flock of graceful sparrows.

Yet there are some that will surprise you.

And as they’re so essential for the balance of the world’s natural ecosystems, it’s important they continue to fly around.

And that they’ll continue to do, buzzing chaotically in and out of our lives as they live between a mere 24 hours to a solid month. Buzz, buzz, you annoying little bastards.

4 comments

  1. I do think entomology is a much more interesting field than people give it credit for. There was one murder case in which a man drove from Ohio to California to commit the crime. He had flown to Ohio as part of an elaborate alibi, but the entomologists caught him flat-footed when they examined the car he rented and found flies endemic to the Western United States, thereby proving he had traveled there.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Absolutely, it’s the colossal variety of species and whatnot. But you pry into these secret lives and it’s often a bit disturbing. Insect instincts.

      And that’s an excellent case! Bugs solving crimes. Should be a TV show.

      Liked by 1 person

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