Thursday, September 23, 2010

Summits Disease


While visiting my mom and grandmas house the other day I walked around their yard looking at the flowers and discovered these flies stuck to a blade of grass. Further investigation lead to more dead flies being discovered in similar frozen animation. I was perplexed by what could have possibly happened to these flies. Something awful it would appear, to have cut their life so short and in such a morbid way. I took a few pictures and put them on my facebook page seeking help from my fellow insect lovers, would anyone know what happened? It wasn't long and James Trager from over at Beetles in the Bush knew exactly what happened to these unfortunate flies. It was a fungus in the genus Entomopthora, which translates into "Insect Destroyer" this particular fungus is sp. muscae which means "of the fly" When putting it all together Entomopthora muscae literally means Destroyer of the Fly.

The fungus makes its way into the fly via the digestive track, or possibly through any small opening in the exoskeleton of the fly. The fungus has one purpose, and that is to reproduce. It does this by rapidly moving through the flies system going directly to the brain. Once in the brain it will control the area that governs movement. The fungus basically takes over control of the fly and makes it crawl where ever it wants the fly to crawl. In the case of this fungus it wants to reach a high vantage point. So like a puppet on a string the fly will make its way to the tip of a leaf, blade of grass, plant or any other surface it happens to be on. This vantage point....or "Summit" is where this particular fungal disease got its common name of Summits Disease. By making the fly crawl to a higher point, it gives the fungus the best possible chance that its spores will be carried by the wind once released by the fly. After the fungus has fully controlled the brain of the fly it will then concentrate on infiltrating other areas of the fly and eventually will consume all of the flies internal organs, thus killing the fly. All that will remain is the macabre, skeletal husk of what was once a vibrant, if annoying fly.This fungal spore spreads rapidly and can affect up to 80% of fly populations in a given area. From the looks of my mothers backyard I would say it is well on its way to accomplishing that.


 This fungus was first described in 1855 by an individual named Cohn. he identified it as a epizootic of house flies. Entomopthora can infect numerous species of flies in a wide array of families. It would seem that Mother Nature provided a perfect method of controlling the overpopulation of flies. Could man capitalize on this? Can we make a biological agent capable of destroying disease carrying flies? Can humans copy what Mother Nature has given? There is much research and work being done to accomplish this feat. It seems this fungus is very short lived and highly sensitive making it very hard to replicate. With enough research and hard work I've no doubt a successful biological fly control that can be used broad spectrum in areas that are highly infested with flies will be designed. This notion is so much better than chemicals created in labs that have no preference as to the species it kills. Hate flies, but love butterflies? What better way to get rid of one and not harm the other than to manufacture a fungus designed to kill only your target?

17 comments:

  1. Nice post and some great networking you have.

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  2. Thank you Steve, I don't know what I would do without all my nature loving friends. I learn something each and everyday and feel blessed to count you among them.

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  3. We also suffer from too many flies. All our neighbors have horses and cattle. The flies disturb our out-door lunches. But: the fungus attacks more than just house flies. In autumn you find dead grasshoppers, wasps, ants, other fly species all dead and clinging to tall stems of grass to help the pollen disperse... It is a said sight to an entomologist but it happens every year when the life of most insects is winding down anyway...We've had two years of drought here in Arizona. The numbers of many insect species are down - to nothing it seems - No mosquitoes, fewer flies, few beetles at the black light, ant colonies are shutting down, not too many swarms of Africanized bees, our dogs had no fleas for years...great isn't it? Now the birdwatchers are alarmed that the hummingbird numbers plummet. Swallows? hardly any. Nighthawks? A few are hanging on. Bats? thousands under every bridge. How many raised their young successfully? Lizards are way down. Amphibians seemed to have had a hatch year when it did finally rain, but how many made it to maturity? We hope that in a few years everything will recover and or at least find a new balance. Mexican species are already moving north. But the Silent Spring does not begin with birds. It starts way down on the food chain, maybe wih mosquitoes and house flies.

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  4. Margarethe thank you for such a thoughtful comment. I've found a few grasshoppers frozen in place, but they have been few and far between. I've not found any other insects besides these flies that have succumbed to a fungus. I was so fascinated by this process. I've noticed a drop in insects around here too...we've had two years of unseasonably wet weather so we have an inordinate amount of flies, mosquitoes and other annoying pests, but very few "Cool" insects. The beetle numbers are way down, as are butterflies (with exception to monarchs right now). I put out the black light and get nothing but nondescript little tan moths and tiny beetles that would be hard to ID without a microscope. It is discouraging. We are taking a trip to Truman State Park tomorrow and will spend the weekend camping, so I have high hopes of finding some new and interesting insects to photograph.
    The spring migration of birds this year was way different than last year. The numbers were way down. Last year I had 22 species in my backyard, this year half that many. I will be curious to see what this winter and next spring bring to us. Thank you for visiting and come back often.

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  5. Wow. Fascinating post. Totally gruesome manipulation of the fly brain (poor thing)--completely the stuff of fiction, but who'd think of it? And super interesting comment from MB, as well. Thanks for making my brain very happy. =)

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  6. have been absent for awhile and came back to this post... excellent!!!! and yes a wonderful networking you have!!! thanks a bunch...

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  7. Wow- fascinating. Thanks for the info! What a bizarre result of evolution...

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  8. Thanks Bio, it is always nice to have you visit. I can't tell you how fascinated I am by this process. Like you said it read like the stuff of science fiction, and the fact that it is all too real makes it even scarier. Poor fly indeed. MD is fairly new to blogging, you should check her blog out when you have time, it is wonderful, Full of fascinating creatures and tons of valuable information about her home state of AZ

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  9. Welcome back Garlic,and thank you for the kind comments. You are most welcome for the info, I find this subject intriguing. Are you one Facebook? Most of my networking is accomplished there. If you aren't on you should give it a try. I would be happy to introduce you to all my nature loving friends.

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  10. You're welcome Mike, thanks for stopping by. Seems mother nature provides for everything, all we have to do it look :o)

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  11. New Framer here:

    I believe the flies on my fruit tress have this. My question is, Is it harmful to the trees, the fruit they will produce and/or us?
    I have tried to read up on it before I posted this question but I can not find if it is or isn't.

    Thank You

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  12. Anonymous, if the flies on your fruit trees have this particular malady, no worries. This is a fungus that directly affects flies, and not plants. Your trees are safe.

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  13. Thanks for letting me know what was up with all the flies I found clinging to the leaves and long grass outside. I picked a blade of grass with a dead fly on the tip and I was looking at it and it looked like the lower part of the fly had some white strands of something that looked like spider silk on it. It almost looked as if this was why the fly was stuck there? Also the day before, all these flies were flying around and grouping up almost like they were mating. Is this something that happens with this disease? Thanks for any info

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  14. im doing this research project for my science class about summit disease and this help me alot

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