Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966


Fruit flies take wing, bugging homeowners


One day, they were just there.

Five, six, seven fruit flies hovering noiselessly around Susie McCartney-Nelson’s kitchen.

The same thing happened to Debra Schnabel, who found a handful of the obnoxiously resilient pests hanging around her compost bucket. Macky Cassidy, who said she had a particularly bad blight of the bugs at her house this summer, said they practically “invaded” her kitchen.

Schnabel, who is diligent about cleaning her compost bucket and keeping food off the kitchen counters, said she was initially embarrassed about the problem. “There’s a stigma. Everyone thinks you’re sloppy.”

 She was surprised to learn she wasn’t alone.  

“I went to someone else’s house and there was a fruit fly,” Schnabel said. “They said, ‘Oh yeah, a lot of people have fruit flies right now.’ There’s something about the conditions in the month of September.”

Jody Kowing, manager of Pied Piper Pest Control’s Juneau branch, said he isn’t surprised to hear about the outbreak in Haines because of the temperature, humidity level and time of year coinciding to create favorable conditions. “If circumstances are right, they will proliferate and you will have an explosion of these things,” Kowing said.

Fruit flies are notoriously difficult to get rid of, he said. “They seem like they are always there. Their lifespan is a couple of days, so when they seem like they aren’t going away, those are actually different fruit flies at different stages of their lives,” Kowing said.

Fruit flies need two things to survive: food to eat and water to breed, he said.

Cassie Miller, who worked at Sarah J’s coffee shop this summer, said fruit flies started to crop up in the store’s attached greenhouse this summer. “It was annoying, and we had to keep that back door shut, so it would get super hot in the shop. It was just a nuisance.”

Since the shop doesn’t have running water, a tank is situated inside the store, which feeds into a sink that drains through a hose into a gray water container in the back. The employees would they dump the water, which was used for washing hands and the like, out back.

Shop owner Sarah Jaymot, determined to eliminate the insects, wiped down the compost buckets with a natural bleach-like compound, pulled the plants sprouting up in the greenhouse, and had employees dispose of the water elsewhere.

“The moisture is what attracts bugs, so we tried to limit that as much as possible,” Miller said.

After the steps were taken, the fruit flies died off, she said.

Schnabel, instead of attacking the breeding grounds, targeted the food source instead.

“I completely cleaned out the five-gallon compost bucket. I cleaned it out with Clorox (bleach) and gave it a good scrub. I made sure I cleaned all of my countertops, left no food out, put all my fruit in the refrigerator,” she said.

After three days, the fruit flies were gone.

Schnabel’s vigorous scrubbing is likely what led to the fruit flies’ demise, Kowing said.

“People say, ‘I put bleach down the drain,’ and bleach can work, but the eggs have to be pretty hearty, so they are resistant to a number of products – especially if it just washed away and doesn’t have time to soak into the egg sacs,” he said.

McCartney-Nelson, who has been pestered by the flies for the past several weeks, said she has searched high and low in her kitchen but can’t find their source.  

“I keep a good handle on my compost container inside of the house and foods that are out, but I still find them buzzing around and can’t figure out what specifically they are coming from... I’m afraid I’m going to find some nest of fruit that I have forgotten about, but so far I haven’t found the source. It’s probably a potato that fell to the bottom of the cabinet. That actually happened to me once,” she said.

Even if there aren’t any conspicuous food sources around, fruit flies will still hone in on small crumbs overlooked by the human eye, Kowing said.

“You have to think really small: tiny, like an insect,” he said. “If we look at it, we say, ‘It’s all cleaned up.’ But if a fly is hanging around, they say, ‘Hey, this is plenty for me.’”

Unlike Schnabel and Jaymot, McCartney-Nelson said she is just going to ignore the flies and hope they die once the cold weather hits. “I’m trying the Zen approach and pretending they aren’t there.”

That method might not work so well, Kowing said.

“A lot of insects can survive being frozen, especially here. They just go dormant and their eggs might survive, and they are just waiting for the optimal conditions, the optimal temperature to hatch out,” he said.