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Slices of Life: Get off my banana

Jill Pertler

They nearly literally come from nothing — or so it seems. And then they multiply. You might start the week with just a few and end it with a proverbial swarm.

They're officially called drosophila melanogaster; it's a big name for an itty bitty bit of an ordinary fruit fly. I've always thought of them as nuisances that fetch a free ride home on my bananas but it turns out they have serious scientific significance.

That's because drosophila melanogaster and humans have many of the same genes — a whopping 60 percent. Shocking, I know!

This considerable similarity with humans paired with an extremely abbreviated life cycle makes the little buggers perfect specimens for scientific research. Successful research. Noteworthy. Eight Nobel prizes in physiology and medicine noteworthy. Research on topics like uncovering the molecular mechanisms that control circadian rhythms and the activation of innate immunity. It's not for the faint of heart.

When they aren't volunteering as specimens for world-renowned research, fruit flies love hanging out around (and devouring) rotting fruit — or fruit that is slightly overripe. They can smell the stuff from a long distance, and given their miniature size they can squeeze through cracks and crevices and screen doors to enter your kitchen and set up house right there on your vine-ripened tomatoes.

They are efficient little Casanovas and waste no time in being fruitful and multiplying. Wiki spends a lot of space discussing and explaining fruit fly sex. I won't get into that here. I try to keep this a PG-rated column. If you have a specific interest in fruit fly porn, feel free to look it up yourself.

Suffice to say if you leave an overripe banana on the counter in the morning and two amorous fruit flies find a way into your kitchen, you could have an infestation of hundreds of the pesky pests by that very evening. A regular fruit fly fiesta. Ole!

Their entire life cycle can be completed in about a week. Females lay between 400 and 500 eggs onto available rotting fruit or other suitable moist and organic locales. The eggs hatch in mere hours and the larvae promptly begin feeding.

Once you have fruit flies, you'll want to get rid of them. You might try to swish them away with your hands, but you'll find they are faster than your left hook. Swatting hundreds of them would be impossible. They'd multiply faster than you could swat. Luckily, there are numerous home remedies for ensuring the demise of fruit flies without any swatting involved.

Turns out fruit flies like fruit (which coordinates well with their name), but their taste buds don't stop there. They'll go for just about anything: apple cider vinegar, wine, beer, sweetened milk, juice and the list goes on.

There are numerous methods of ousting them outlined online, but basically, you put something they like into a container that they can get into, but can't escape from. This can be achieved with a paper funnel or plastic wrap atop the jar.

And then you wait. Death is at their doorstep.

You can go to bed knowing that soon you will be able to eat bananas without a worry or care that you might be getting an extra dose of protein with your potassium.

Or that fruit fly sex is going on in your kitchen.

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