September 09, 2015

The La Brea Fly Pits


Utah's hot, dry summers are not kind to flies, mosquitoes, and other annoying insects. The combination of heat, low humidity, and ultraviolet light (the average July UV index in Salt Lake City is 10; in New York it's 6) is as lethal as DDT.

And at 4700 feet in elevation, summer mornings can be quite cool, even when the temperature reaches 100 degrees (Fahrenheit) in the late afternoon. I can open the door and windows and let the warm air out and the cool air in without ushering in a bunch of uninvited guests.

Conditions get wet and cool enough in the spring and fall to bring out the bugs in annoying numbers. Even during the summer, a couple will find their way in and spend the day banging off the glass and buzzing me, no matter how wide open the windows (wasps seem particularly stupid in this regard).

We're talking bugs with a serious death wish. They're like, "C'mon, Darwin, give me some of that natural selection!"

Splat. Wish granted.

I tried traditional fly paper and caught one fly in an entire month. Maybe they've evolved an aversion to the stuff. But as I said, not really worth spending a lot of time and money on. Still, a couple of flies droning around the room are like little kids running up and down the aisle during a cross-country flight.

I'm pretty sure fly paper--well, duct tape--would work on them. As it turns out, fly paper, like duct tape, is the right idea. It only needs a little tweak.

A $6 pack of Catchmaster "Bug & Fly Clear Window Traps" did the trick. You place a plastic sheet of the stuff it in a corner of a sun-facing window (or any window where you observe bugs congregating). Stick it to the window and peel off the protective backing, exposing a film of transparent goo.

I was amazed at how quickly it worked. An hour later, flying annoyances gone. Or rather, permanently stuck. That's how long it took them to randomly wander into an insect version of the La Brea Tar Pits. I resisted tenting my fingers like Mr. Burns and cackling as the parasites went to meet their maker.

But I've got no sympathy for flies. Spiders, on the other hand, I respect. They're cold-blooded (literally) predators, and the enemy of my enemy is my friend (as long as they don't crawl on me).

It got me thinking that what we have here is the making of a cool science project. Leave a strip up for the whole summer and you'll end up with a veritable insect abattoir, including the teeny-tiny no-see-'ums you never guessed were there. You could stick traps all over the place and see what you collect where and how many over a span of time.

The downside is grossing out the teacher. But in truth, it's not any more disgusting than butterfly collecting. It's just that the little critters look so disgusting.

Okay, make that a big upside for the average kid.

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