Thursday Salute to Originals: The Fruit Fly

There is usually a bowl of fruit in our office kitchen, and last week we have been so busy on deadlines that we forgot to throw it away! Good thing we caught it in time, the fruit made it to the compost pile just as we spotted a fruit fly buzzing around. It got us talking today, what’s the deal with those pesky little bugs anyways?

Fruit Fly Bananas Cartoon Sketch

The fruit fly is one of the smallest and most determined little creatures around. With an arguably bad reputation, we wanted to turn the tables and explore what’s so cool about the fruit fly. Only 2 to 5 millimeters long, fruit flies can travel over 6 miles per day in search of food. Following their strong sense of smell (up to 3/4 mile) to wherever red wine or rotting bananas exist, the insects slither through cracks in screen windows or doors.

The lifespan of the fruit fly is remarkably short. “One mathematician calculated that, given their size (< .25 inches), the number of eggs laid by one female, and their life span, a single pair of fruit flies could, over the span of one year, produce a mass of offspring that, were they all to live that long, would form a sphere whose diameter would fill the space between the Earth and the Sun”, according to Daily Kos. Talk about critical mass!

Fruit Fly Insect Wings Spread Translucent Wings

With such a short life cycle and possessing large chromosomes, the fruit fly is often used in scientific experiments related to heredity. Scientist Thomas Hunt Morgan dedicated much of his experimental career to studying the chromosome patterns of fruit flies. describes, “by painstakingly examining thousands upon thousands of flies with a microscope and a magnifying glass, Morgan and his colleagues confirmed the chromosomal theory of inheritance: that genes are located on chromosomes like beads on a string, and that some genes are linked (meaning they are on the same chromosome and always inherited together). One of his students, Alfred Sturtevant, created the first ever genetic map, a landmark event in genetics.”

The fruit fly may be a hardcore partier as well. Studies show that female fruit flies will find respite in alcoholic places when threatened by a wasp – the alcohol is toxic to the wasps but not to the fruit flies (they must have a high tolerance!). And when a male fruit fly fails to mate with a female, he may seek out a fermenting fruit to fill up on alcohol – nursing his heartache, perhaps?

A cunning, compact, and remarkably short-lived creature, the fruit fly is considered a nuisance to most. Today, let’s take on a new perspective and appreciate this little bug for its strengths! Next time you’re singing “shoo fly, don’t bother me!” at the fruit flies, keep in mind how far that hungry little bug might have traveled to land on your kitchen table.

Sources: WiseGeek, Daily Kos,, Thinking Fountain, NPR