Ho, Ho, Swat: Festive Flies Drive Australians Crazy
SYDNEY Australians would be smart to keep their mouths shut and clothes on this holiday season.
Christmas comes at the height of summer Down Under and summer brings flies -- billions of them.
The silent bush flies travel in swarms this time of year, from the stark outback to beachside towns, seeking refuge from the sizzling sun in places warm and moist: that often means people's mouths, noses, ears and elsewhere.
"Australia has about 20,000 species of flies that provide a service to the environment by recycling nutrients, but the bush fly is the one bad apple when it comes to humans," says entomologist David Yeates of the government's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization.
A three-year drought across much of Australia that finally broke this year gave Australians a reprieve in Christmas's past from the pesky, though harmless bush fly, which is most prolific along the coast after a rainy spring.
"Females can lay lots of eggs, probably hundreds given the right conditions," Yeates says.
In a country that posts "beware of crocodiles" signs on highways and where even city folk are wary of leaving their shoes outside fearing deadly spiders will crawl inside, the bush fly ranks as a featherweight.
Yeates says he has never heard of anyone getting sick from swallowing too many flies, though there have been some cases of eye infections.
"I can't tell you how they taste because I spit them out as soon as I feel one walking on my tongue," said 10-year-old Christine Martin, who had tired of the relentless swatting after a day on Sydney's Manly beach.
How to spend a fly-free day? Some suggest tying a damp cloth around the forehead so the flies take up residence there instead of in darker bodily zones.
Others throw fashion to the wind and don wide-brimmed hats festooned with wine corks, a swatting machine if you will. These can be accessorized with mosquito meshing or clear cellophane wrap.
By the start of autumn, around March, most of the flies are dead or soon will be. As adults, the bush fly only lives for a week at best.
"They don't do so well come the end of summer, being cold-blooded animals relying on environmental heat to keep their energy levels up," says Yeates.