DECEMBER
1988

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

12-21-88

Justice and the Blue-Tail Fly

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.
The Southern folk song “Jim Crack Corn” relates a mystery of sorts.  The song recounts a death plot suitable for the popular TV show “Murder She Wrote.”

In case you've forgotten, the song chronicles the demise of “master.”  He was rather unceremoniously unseated from the saddle of his pony and tumbled in the ditch.  He died.  A jury deliberated the crime, and the verdict was that, not the butler, but the blue-tail fly was the guilty party.

Blue-tail fly is a common name for one group of insects also known as horse flies.  Adult horse flies and their insect cousins, the deer flies, are blood feeders.  Neither insect feeds exclusively on the animal for which it is named.  Almost any mammal is fair game for these bloodthirsty flies.

These insects are known for their painful bites and their persistence in obtaining a meal.  Anyone who has been bitten or repeatedly dive-bombed by a horse fly or deer fly will attest to those attributes.  Fear of the insect's bite and buzzing causes threatened animals to behave erratically.  Fly nets were probably developed for use on draft horses to protect them from this group of flies.           

Horse flies and deer flies are frequently found in the vicinity of wetlands.  Larvae of these insects live in saturated soil.  However, adults are strong flies and are frequently found far away from breeding sites.           

Farm kids have always been fascinated by horse flies and have been known to capture the pesky insects.  Of course, a horse fly doesn't make a great pet, but they can be used for other purposes.  For example, children have been known to “research” the behavior of a headless horse fly.  Such decapitated insects will, with proper provocation, fly.  Flights of these unguided insect missiles usually end with spectacular collisions with immovable objects, such as trees, fence posts, and best of all, barns.           

Such apparently barbaric behavior on the part of kids toward horse flies likely arose as an act of revenge – for having been bitten while skinny dipping in the creek or pond.

Once again, the jury has convicted a habitual offender – the blue-tail fly.

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox