A Fly on the Wall

This time of year often makes me think of the old saying: “You’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar”. I think of it because there are so very many of the buzzing insects on my warm, sunny deck, all trying desperately to get inside. This adage doesn’t offer a solution to the swarms that appear in autumn, since putting a dish of honey outside would only fortify the tiny creatures, as opposed to killing them. No, it refers to our dispositions, meaning that showing kindness and good-humour gets us further in life than hostility or aggression.

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Versions of this proverb have appeared in many languages over the past several hundred years, but I prefer the German one best. “A drop of honey catches more flies than a hogshead of vinegar.” One hogshead is equivalent to 238 litres, making it difficult to believe that the actual head of a hog was used for the initial measurement. However, the word “hogshead” paints an interesting picture.

But I digress. My point, with all this senseless rambling, is that this year I have caught more flies with vinegar. Fruit flies that is. Why are there so many of them? They bop along the screen window and often seem to find a way inside. However, I read on the Internet that a dish of apple cider vinegar, covered in plastic wrap and poked with holes, will act as a trap. And it works! Sadly, this whole experiment nullifies the basic premise of the famous aforementioned proverb, German or otherwise.

Still, regular flies are worse. They’re capable of spreading at least 200 pathogens and parasites to humans, which makes them unwelcome interlopers in our homes. Once, during the height of corral cleaning here on the farm, a screen-less window was accidently left open. When I arrived from work there were thousands of flies in my house. It was like a scene from some late night horror flick. Sort of a “Lord of the Flies” remake. (Although real flies had little or nothing to do with either the book or the movie.)

While watching a nature show recently, I heard about a lizard that dines exclusively on flies. This salt flat lizard lives in the Atacama Desert, west of the Andes Mountains, in an area said to be the driest place on earth. (Clearly, the creators of this program haven’t been to Saskatchewan lately.) For these lizards, flies are both food and drink. They must ingest 400 brine flies just to get one crummy teaspoon of water. What a life!

Learning this information causes me to ask a couple of thought provoking questions. What poor sap had to creep around a salt flat after a lizard, counting the number of flies it ate in the course of a day? How do they know that precisely 400 flies equals 1 teaspoon of water? (A fact that also raises some unpleasant images).  And, how do I lay my hands on one of these guys? A lizard like that could make a killing on my deck.

In any case, I shall end this discourse with another proverb, this time from the Dutch: “Dead flies cause the ointment of the apothecary to send forth a stinking savour.” I’m not sure what it means, but it sounds about right.

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