When the weather warms up and the fruit goes on sale, it's tempting to buy a ton of fresh produce and spread it out through kitchen like bouquets of edible flowers.
And yet, when the fruits and veggies sit out in the open for as little as a couple of days, your kitchen becomes overrun by fruit flies!
Your first instinct is probably to start swatting around maniacally.
Want to skip all this research and just hire a decent exterminator for your bug problems?
After that, you'll be left wondering if these small bugs can really hurt you, or if they're just annoying.
Let's get into that and answer that question, shall we!
So, Are Fruit Flies Harmful?
Quick answer: yes and no.
Fruit flies can be dangerous to humans, but not in the form of a bite (aka, no, they can't "bite" you, like a mosquito or horse fly might bite you) but they can do other nasty stuff...
What Do Fruit Flies Look Like?
First things first:
It's important to make sure that the insect you're seeing is actually a fruit fly.
There are a few different bugs which are consistently mistaken for fruit flies, as well as the inverse (but more on that later).
Right now, we'll concentrate on the fruit fly, which is very small (about 1/8 of an inch) with wings that make its flight pattern more of a flutter than a zoom.
The physique of the fruit fly looks like someone dwarfed a common housefly, and its color is a caramel brown. Perhaps the most widely-known feature of the fruit fly is its set of blood-red eyes.
Do Fruit Flies Carry Disease?
We're glad you asked.
Yes, fruit flies are essentially sponges for bacteria and disease.
They feed on rotting materials, so their footprints are almost like a petri dish of all the bacteria swarming around a decaying piece of fruit.
This is where humans can find themselves in danger with fruit flies.
While the risk is low, some fruit flies have been proven to be carriers of pathogenic bacteria, which has the ability to spread to humans via contact.
Are Fruit Flies Harmful if Eaten?
Most people actively avoid eating bugs (unless they're contestants on Fear Factor). However, fruit flies (and their germs) often sneak into the bodies of human beings, despite our best efforts to the contrary.
Not only do these insects gloss the surface of fruits with bacteria when they land, but females also embed their eggs into the flesh of the produce, which can lead to human ingestion on accident.
How can you fix this problem?
Be sure to thoroughly wash all your produce before eating it.
If you DO happen to accidentally eat a fruit fly, the acids in your stomach should be able to take care of any issues.
Because these little bugs are full of nasty disease, you should still take precaution!
How Do Fruit Flies Eat?
So, if fruit flies can't bite anything, how do they get their food?
At every step of their life cycle, there's a a way that they can feed themselves without every needing to chomp anything.
Fruit Fly Eggs
When a female fruit fly lays a sachet of eggs, the nutrients from the organic material they inhabit can seep into the egg and feed the developing larvae. After the larvae emerge from the eggs, they can extract the juices themselves. These larvae stock up on nutrients that they use in their next phase of life.
Fruit Fly Pupae
Fruit fly larvae lock themselves away in dark, dry places (think cracks and crevices) while they're in the pupae stage. This is important because this is where the main development occurs; the larvae transform from white splotches to fully-formed adult fruit flies.
An interesting point to note here is that fruit fly pupae don't eat. This time of development happens away from their food source and breeding ground, so the extra nutrients saved up in the larvae stage are used here to fuel their changing bodies.
Adult Fruit Flies
Once the fruit flies emerge from the cocoons they built for themselves in the pupae stage, they're free to roam the world in search of a fresh (or, not so fresh) new source of food.
Fruit flies are mainly attracted to fruits and vegetables that have undergone fermentation, which refers to the chemical reaction that takes place in organic materials when glucose is broken down via anaerobic means.
But how can the fruit flies get food without biting it?
Well, they have a special apparatus on their mouths that act almost like a huge straw; sucking the fermented juices from decaying matter.
What Looks Like a Fruit Fly, But Bites?
There are many fruit fly imposters out there, causing a lot of people to think that a bite from a fruit fly not only exists, but leaves a mark.
We're here to dispel some of the rumors.
This is a blanket term for bugs that can't easily be seen with the naked eye. Of course, they're not totally invisible like there name might lead you to believe.
They usually attack in such a way that is fast and effective, sneaking off rapidly after they've taken a bite.
The street name is more of a slang term, of course. The general way to refer to "no-see-um bugs" is to call them by their more common name: sandflies.
Biting gnats (also called biting midges) are tiny flies which thrive in warm climates around the world and can cause painful bites to humans and animals. While these insects don't usually transmit disease, it's not outside of the realm of possibility to pick up bacteria from the mouthpart of a biting gnat.
Generally, all that humans need to worry about for themselves and their pets in the face of a bite from a biting gnat is a painful red fleck on the skin, which heals itself naturally in a matter of days.
Tiny Black Bugs That Bite and Jump
Generally, if you can visibly see a small insect hop around, you're looking at a tick or a flea. These parasitic insects are unique in that they don't have wings, but they DO have an uncanny ability to leap up to around 8 inches. For an insect that measures in at only around 2 millimeters, that's no small feat.
Also, ticks and fleas subsist on a diet of purely blood. While fruit flies also enjoy snacking on organic matter, the two food groups are totally different. Fleas and ticks get their nutrition from biting a living host and extracting the blood, but fruit flies slurp up fruit juice and live on the calories.
The Bottom Line
If you see a fruit fly (or 30) in your kitchen, it's not a huge cause for alarm.
These pests are disgusting for sure, but they're probably not going to ravage disease through your home and they most certainly won't take a bite out of your skin.
If you do experience a bite from what you thought was a fruit fly, you are now able to discern that it is a completely different species of insect.
Fruit flies don't have any teeth or laceration tools, so the worst think they'll do to you is annoy you.