Several flies buzzed around my head as I changed a broken screen. I didn’t want flies in the house and the screen wasn’t doing its’ job. Since house flies are pretty unparticular about what they feed on, one never knows where those little feet have been and what bacteria they might be carrying. More than that, they are irritating and even more, infuriating. They are generally faster than me, seeming to anticipate my attempts to swat them.
I had good reason not to want flies of any kind in my abode, but in the environment, it is a different story. These buzzing, annoying, exasperating little creatures are an important component in the complex natural machine we call nature.
All flies are members of the Order Diptera which has been around for 240 million years. Although some species of flies may resemble members of the bee family or other flying insects, they are quite distinct. First and foremost, Dipterans have only one pair of wings. The name, Diptera, actually means two wings. The hind pair of wings has evolved into a small set of organs called halteres. These clublike organs function as bionic gyroscopes to aid in balance during flight and likely account for the flying ability of this Order. Only the males of the much smaller order of twisted-wing parasites has halteres and they developed from front wings.
Like many insects, all Dipterans, or true flies, go through that amazing process called complete metamorphosis. This is one of the most magical things in nature—how a wormlike creature can spin a cocoon or pupa, go to sleep and wake up as a flying insect. It is about the equivalent of putting an egg in a bottle, shaking it thoroughly and expecting an adult chicken to form. Even if science eventually unravels how metamorphosis works, that will never tarnish the wonder of it.
With over one million species, it isn’t hard to guess that flies come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Naturally, members of this Order include horse flies, deer flies, house flies, black flies and more that love to torment humans. There are others though that are less likely to be thought of as flies. Mosquitoes and knats are flies, and there is a group of flies that mimic bees and wasps. The largest member of the Order Diptera is about the size of a man’s thumb and the smallest can catch shade alongside a grain of table salt.
The most interesting thing about flies is the function they play in nature. As small flying insects, their role at the bottom of the food chain is immense. That is also true for their larval form. But larvae also play a significant role in the decomposition of dead things. It may seem gross to see maggots crawling on a deceased critter, but without quick decomposition, we would be swimming in dead creatures in short order.
Pollination though, is where flies really shine. Only bees pollinate more plants than flies and flies may have been among the first to chase nectar rewards 150 million years ago.
Flies have their dark side as well. They are often the vectors for such diseases as malaria, dengue and yellow fever, may attack livestock and wildlife, cause plant galls and more.
If you are sick to death of flies and want some relief, I have some good news for you. There is one place on this planet where you don’t need screens to keep flies out because there aren’t any flies. As a side benefit, Antarctica is a beautiful place.
Help Idaho Wildlife
When we traveled across the state in October 2017, most of the vehicles we saw using the wildlife management areas did not have wildlife plates. Buying wildlife plates is a great way for non-hunters and hunters alike to support wildlife-based recreation like birding.
C'mon folks, let's help Idaho's wildlife by proudly buying and displaying a wildlife license plate on each of our vehicles!
See below for information on Idaho plates. Most states have wildlife plates so if you live outside Idaho, check with your state's wildlife department or vehicle licensing division for availability of state wildlife plates where you live.
Wildlife License Plates
Idaho Wildlife license plates provide essential funding that benefits the great diversity of native plants and wildlife that are not hunted, fished or trapped—over 10,000 species or 98% of Idaho’s species diversity. Game species that share the same habitats (such as elk, deer, antelope, sage-grouse, salmon, trout) also benefit from these specialty plates.
No state tax dollars are provided for wildlife diversity, conservation education and recreation programs. Neither are any revenues from the sale of hunting or fishing licenses spent on nongame species. Instead, these species depend on direct donations, federal grants, fundraising initiatives—and the Idaho Wildlife license plates.
Both my vehicles have Bluebird Plates. I prefer the bluebird because the nongame program gets 70 percent of the money from bluebird plates, but only 60 percent of the money from elk and trout plates - 10 percent of the money from elk plates supports wildlife disease monitoring and testing programs (to benefit the livestock industry) and 10 percent from cutthroat plates supports non-motorized boat access.
Incidentally, in 2014, the Idaho Legislature denied the Department of Fish and Game the ability to add new plates or even to change the name of the elk and cutthroat plates (very specific) to wildlife and fish plates, a move that would have allowed for changing images occasionally and generating more revenue. It would seem that they believe that we Idahoans don't want a well funded wildlife program. Go figure.
"WOW. What a phenomenal piece you wrote. You are amazing." Jennifer Jackson
That is embarrassing but actually a fairly typical response to my nature essays. Since The Best of Nature is created from the very best of 16 years of these nature essays published weekly in the Idaho Falls Post Register (online readership 70,000), it is a fine read. It covers a wide variety of topics including humorous glimpses of nature, philosophy, natural history, and conservation. Readers praise the style, breadth of subject matter and my ability to communicate complex and emotional topics in a relaxed and understandable manner.
Everyone can find something to love in this book. From teenagers to octogenarians, from the coffee shop to the school room, these nature essays are widely read and enjoyed.
Some of the essays here are my personal favorites, others seemed to strike a chord with readers. Most have an important message or lesson that will resonate with you. They are written with a goal to simultaneously entertain and educate about the wonderful workings of nature. Some will make you laugh out loud and others will bring a tear to the eye and warm your heart.
"You hit a home run with your article on, Big Questions in Nature. It should be required reading for everyone who has lost touch with nature...great job!" Joe Chapman
"We enjoyed your column, Bloom Where Planted. Some of the best writing yet. The Post Register is fortunate to have your weekly columns." Lou Griffin.
To read more and to order a copy, click here or get the Kindle version
Copies are also available at:
Island Park Builders Supply (upstairs)
Barnes and Noble in Idaho Falls
Harriman State Park, Island Park
Museum of Idaho
Valley Books, Jackson Wyoming
Avocet Corner Bookstore, Bear River National Wildlife Refuge, Brigham City, Utah
Craters of the Moon National Monument Bookstore, Arco, Idaho