Don’t mess with the flies, cherish them

Some people have joked that there seem to be an international year for ‘almost anything under the sun’.

Thus, when the subject came up in a small gathering of my acquaintances that this is the International Year of the Fly, it was taken as a pun.

It, however, puzzled someone to wonder whether it had something to with the Chinese zodiac, a repeating cycle of 12 years, with each year being represented by an animal. 2019, for example, is the Chinese Year of the Pig.

But a fly is not an animal; it is an insect - a creature of popular disgust for its perceived dirty habits. This led to someone else wondering why anyone would wish to celebrate it.

It soon turned out that the joke was on the gathering.

The year 2019 was designated as international "Year of the Fly" last year at the 9th International Congress of Dipterology in Windhoek, Namibia.

The intention was as a celebration of flies and their role in nature and human society.

Dipterology is the study of a large order of insects called Diptera that comprises the two-winged flies. If one looks closely at flies in this category, one of their characteristic features is a pair of balancing organs, called halteres, located just back of the base of the wings. Halteres are used for balancing in flight.

It turns out the fly is much maligned. Flies are of considerable ecological and human importance, discussed below. From waste removal to pollination and future food sources, the fly greatly impacts life on earth. This is despite some species being disease transmitters.

This order of insects includes the housefly and a host of other species of flies around animals such as cattle, different types of fruit flies, bees, including the many biting forms such as mosquitoes and tsetse flies that transmit disease.

In all, there are more than 110,000 described species of flies in the world. Many more species remain to be described or discovered.

Most of these fly species help break down and consume garbage, toilet waste, decaying vegetation and dead animal bodies. Other species of the flies such as the bees and various others help with the pollination of plants.

The maggots of hoverflies are welcomed by gardeners because they feed on aphids, reducing numbers of those pests. Many flies are parasitic, feeding on moth caterpillars, beetle grubs, and other pest species.

Flies and their larvae (maggots) are rich in protein and are also an important source of food for a large number of predators, including birds and other like animals as well as insects that prey on them.

Some species of maggots are used in medicine to clean wounds. The blowfly maggot helps in the forensic determination of time of a murder to solve a crime.

Other species, particularly the fruit fly are used in genetic research. Some of their characteristics resemble human making them useful in medical research.

The uses of the flies are numerous, but they also have their bad sides. The housefly, for instance, spreads food-borne illnesses. Tsetse flies affect cattle leading to economic loses dues to diseases such as nagana, while the human population may be affected by sleeping sickness.

The most deadly in the order these insects called Diptera is the mosquito. Its various species are vectors for a range of diseases including dengue and yellow fevers, the West Nile fever, encephalitis, and other infectious diseases.

But it is the Anopheles mosquito, which transmits Malaria, that beats them all in terms of the havoc it wreaks in populations in Africa and the rest of the world.

The World Health Organisation, in its latest figures reports that most malaria cases, numbering 200 million in 2017 were in the African Region.

This comprises 92 per cent of the global total estimated at 219 million. The region also saw 93 per cent of malaria deaths of the global total.

Five countries in Africa accounted for nearly half of all malaria cases worldwide: Nigeria (25%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), Mozambique (5%), India (4%) and Uganda (4%).

However, countries such as Rwanda registered significant improvement after recording 436, 000 fewer malaria cases in 2017 compared to 2016. 

One may not conclude without mentioning the bees which are under siege around the world, including Rwanda. A report in this newspaper not too long ago noted how pesticide use near Akagera National Park is killing bees, threatening food security. This emphasises our duty to be very careful not to mess with nature.

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