W hat's tiny (3mm long), can slip through the tiniest opening in your window screens, relishes ripe fruit, has beady little red eyes, and is the scourge of parrots and their keepers everywhere?
Meet Drosophila melanogaster, affectionately known as the Fruit Fly. Native to most parts of the United States, Fruit Flies seemingly appear out of nowhere (I know, I know, Science has long since disproved the theory of Spontaneous Generation but sometimes I still wonder). With very prolific reproduction habits (a female can lay about 500 eggs in one sitting which hatch into adorable eensy little larva, or "maggots" in around 30 hours), a life cycle that lasts about a week, and super charged "manuverus-quickus-out-ofwayus" detection and relocation devices, you may have pulled most of your hair out in frustration before you've managed to swat down even one, let alone gotten rid of the entire invasion.
How can you control a pest so tiny and fiendish that it has been known to exist on drain sludge, dirty kitchen sponges, and even alcohol vapors? How can you hope to catch these villains who so cruelly and disrespectfully tread and salivate all over our parrot's carefully prepared meals just moments after they've been presented? "Chemicals," you say? "Sticky traps, expensive ultrasonic pest repellers, and unsightly baited contraptions,'' you cry?
Allow me to introduce our fearless green contender in the other comer of the ring ..
Sitting quietly, albeit somewhat
strange looking and unusual, yet beautiful in its own right - I present the Nepenthes family of Carnivorous Plants.
Also known as Pitcher Plants and "Monkey Cups" (Because Monkeys have been seen sipping from the Pitchers at monkey soirees), Nepenthes come in many varieties. In this case, the
Nepenthes has been crossed with Coccinea to form a hybrid. Nepenthes species vary in size, color (Coccinea have bright red cups when exposed to sunlight), shape, and ease of care. All Nepenthes like moist, easily drained substrate medium, humidity, dappled or diffused sunlight, warmer temperatures, and best of all - Fruit Flies.
I have a vosmaeri Eclectus Parrot, and where there will be Eclectus there will be fruit (or so it has been decreed), and where there will be fruit there will be
fruit flies. Sticky fly traps are unwelcome in my home; not only do they pose a danger to flighted birds but also to groggy roommates and boyfriends. Chemicals of any kind are contraband in our home, as are gross pickle jars with vinegar and rotting banana floating in them like some third grader's Science experiment gone terribly wrong (and left out on the counter as an invitation for dinner guests to inquire - "Oh that, well we have this fly problem ... would you like more pasta?" No thank you!). Expensive ultrasonic sound wave emitters are also out of the question as there is a seven-year old female Tarantula in our apartment who might not appreciate that type of intrusive cacophony.
Feeling beaten and taken advantage of by the troop of Drosophila whirring King Kongesque-like tiny helicopters around one very irritated Edectus, I found myself trying to find solace at the Plant Warehouse on Pine Street in San Francisco, California.
New plants always make me feel better when I'm facing defeat by 3mm long adversaries. That's when my eyes beheld two unusual green plants with funny little pitchers dangling from the ends of their flat broad leaves. I inquired and was told that they were Nepenthes, "Pitcher Plants," a variety of carnivorous plants, like the Venus Fly Trap or the Sundew, yet nothing like I had seen before.
I explained my predicament with the Fruit Fly regime I was currently living under. These plants were small, but if placed in prime locations might just help to bring the fly population down a little. I was told how to care for my two new comrades; diffused light, keep the
substrate moist. I was wary and I wondered if I might have a rap sheet due to countless Venus Fly Trap deaths I was responsible for when I was a child.
Two weeks went by before it occurred to me to peek inside one of the tiny pitchers. Could my eyes deceive me? I counted four fruit flies in the depths of one pitcher, then six in the next! Every Pitcher I peeped into was a watery grave to a number of limp armed little fruit fly bodies. I was overjoyed. If only the plants were larger!
That afternoon found me back at the plant store looking to feed my Orchid addiction.
One of the guys behind the counter saw me walk in and gestured towards a large plants hanging a few feet away from him. I looked up and stopped cold. Was I dreaming? Could I really be seeing this huge granddaddy version of the two small Nepenthes I had tucked away at home?
"Twenty-nine bucks" he said.
"I'll take it!" I shouted. "Nepenthes Coccinea" read the tag. Wow.
Oh, I could not wait to get this tank of a plant home, this behemoth, this ... this weapon of mass-flydestruction! I was going into battle and I was going to WIN!