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Why are there so many flies buzzing around Austin right now?

A fly perches on tongs in a bowl of sliced lemons
Michael Minasi
A fly perches on tongs at barbecue in June.

Missy Fleshman has been swatting flies left and right these days. She can’t open the back door of her home without the pesky insects flying inside. And when she goes to the community pool in Northeast Austin with her 4-year-old daughter, the flies join them.

“I cannot even set my drink down next to the pool without it being covered,” she said. “It’s not just one or two; it’s like five flies. I suddenly get all disgusted and grossed out.”

Fleshman, the president of her neighborhood’s homeowners association, also hears residents comment about the flies swarming around the pool. Some have stopped her on the street. Others have posted in the neighborhood Facebook group. For a while, she thought maybe the cause was a landscaping issue or bad mulch.

“We don’t know if [the fly problem] is environmental or … because they literally have access to trash cans,” Fleshman said. “Kids are spilling drinks, so they constantly have a food source.”

She decided to reach out to KUT’s ATXplained project to ask why so many flies are buzzing around Austin.

“They’re everywhere around our city right now,” Fleshman said. “You can’t sit down outside without the flies.”

It's too darn hot

Wizzie Brown, an entomologist at Texas A&M University, said the answer is simple: Rising temperatures and humid weather mean flies are mating faster. And there’s no denying it’s been hot this summer.

“As temperatures increase, then that can speed up their development,” she said. “When that happens, then we have more adult flies more quickly, and then they can mate and they can lay more eggs, and then we typically will get higher and higher population levels.”

She said most people are probably dealing with house flies or blow flies. House flies are gray with black stripes on their thorax with a tan-colored abdomen. Blow flies are larger and have a blue or green metallic body, giving them a shiny appearance.

Can flies hurt us?

Sonja Swiger, a professor and entomologist at Texas A&M University, said the bottom part of a fly’s mouth functions like a sponge, absorbing liquids. Unlike mosquitoes, however, they can’t bite or chew.

But both types of flies can cause harm to humans, she said. Flies can pick up bacteria and diseases when feeding on garbage, rotting meat, dead animals and manure. They can feed or lay eggs in fecal material in your backyard, then fly into the kitchen and walk across food you eat.

“You should be concerned … because the more of them you have around, the more increased possibilities that maybe there’s a pathogen that’s being carried,” she said.

But Swiger says people in the U.S. don't regularly get sick from flies. If anything, they'll get intestinal problems like E. coli, staphylococcus and salmonella.

“I wouldn’t say they’re the friendliest flies [or] great to have around because that’s not how we want it to be portrayed,” she said. “But they’re also not out biting us or anything like that.”

How to prevent flies

Brown said house flies and blow flies lay their eggs in moist areas such as decaying plant matter, trash cans and pet waste. She recommends cleaning out garbage cans and recycling bins regularly because these containers build up a lot of organic matter that flies feed off.

“You [might] need to get a pressure washer or the jet spray on the garden hose … throw some dish soap in there and spray things out,” she said. “If it's really bad, you might need to get a scrub brush and clean that out real well.”

Brown also says if you have animals, pick up and dispose of their waste at least once a week.

So, how long will the flies stay?

Swiger says the fly problem is not necessarily an Austin problem but an urban problem. That means it’s tough to figure out the flies' next move, and she says flies won’t leave us alone until we hit a freeze.

“I saw a meme the other day that said, ‘It’s going to be hot from 11 a.m. until November,’” she said. “That’s the same with the flies.”

Swiger says the fly season could shorten if the fall is dry because it’ll be harder for them to survive.

Over the last few weeks, Fleshman has noticed fewer flies at the pool, but they still haven’t left her neighborhood.

“I would rather fight the flies than mosquitoes,” she said. “So I shouldn’t be too upset about the flies.”


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