When it comes to insects that make a nuisance of themselves, there aren’t many that can compete with the fruit fly. These tiny insects seem to appear out of nowhere and make life miserable wherever they go. Whether it’s in your wine glass on the patio or buzzing around your fruit bowl, there are no situations where fruit flies are pleasant to be around.
In the grand scheme of things, you might not think that fruit flies are the worst pests you could have in your home – and you’re right. There are plenty of other insects and creatures that could make life a lot less pleasant. However, for health reasons, it’s always best to treat any kind of insect infestation before it gets out of control.
But what are fruit flies? Where do they come from? Why do they love to be in our kitchens and glasses, and how can we get rid of them? Let’s look at all the things you need to know about fruit flies, so you can help keep them out of your home this year.
Fruit flies, which are also known as vinegar flies in some places, are small flying insects that originally came from Africa. However, like many insects, they’re very adaptable, and they’ve since spread to nearly every corner of the globe.
Their scientific name is drosophila melanogaster, and they’re usually around 3 to 4mm, oval shaped, and various shades of black, cream and brown. Although you need to look very closely to see their markings!
Over time, fruit flies that left Africa evolved into distinct subtypes, and some of the more common varieties in America are:
Unlike some other flies that are sometimes called fruit flies, drosophila melanogaster lives almost exclusively in human homes and businesses, and they’re not responsible for fruit crop damage. That doesn’t mean it’s fun to share your space with them though!
Fruit flies might be an annoyance, but they do have an important role to play in the ecosystem. That’s because their diet is primarily fruit and vegetables that are rotting or fermenting. Which means they help to break these foods down and eventually, to return them to the dirt, where they will enrich the soil for the next plants to grow there.
However, while that’s a useful thing to have in a forest or jungle, where this kind of biological waste disposal is a good thing, it’s not so great. Even worse, because fruit flies like fermenting products, they’re very attracted to wine, beer and other fermented drinks.
Because of their diet, fruit flies like to make their homes near dumpsters, or compost or manure heaps. They also live near fruit trees, where they can eat the fruit that falls to the ground below the trees. They also tend to like mushrooms and other fungus, and generally anything that is rotting or decaying.
Which means that the simplest way to keep fruit flies out of your home or office is to keep your trash cans empty, and to dispose of organic produce outside of your living or workspace. Check any fruit and vegetables you have in your kitchen too. Once it starts to go bad, it will start to attract fruit flies, seemingly from nowhere.
When you’re dealing with a fly problem, you probably aren’t too worried about what kind of fly you’re dealing with – you just want them gone. However, since different kinds of insects are attracted by different things, and you will need different tactics to get rid of them, it’s worth figuring out whether you’re really dealing with fruit flies, or something else. Here are some of the flies that are most commonly confused with fruit flies.
Many people use the term gnat and fruit fly interchangeably, but they’re very different insects.
First, gnats are much smaller, and they are much more likely to swarm, whereas fruit flies tend to be in smaller groups.
Second, gnats bite, while fruit flies are not capable of biting. So if the tiny, annoying buzzing beasts that are causing trouble in and around your home bite you, they’re probably gnats rather than fruit flies!
It’s very easy to tell the difference between fruit flies and house flies, because house flies are so much larger than fruit flies. They’re completely different species, and while there are many types of both type of insect, none of them can be confused for the other.
House flies are a lot more than an annoyance too. They’ve been known to carry and spread a variety of diseases, and while fruit flies prefer fermenting fruit and vegetables, house flies prefer rotting meat. So if the large flies you’re struggling with avoid the fruit bowl and buzz around the day-old cat food, they’re definitely house flies instead of fruit flies!
Fruit flies and drain flies are about the same size, but fruit flies are oval shaped while drain flies are heart shaped.
As the name suggests, drain flies also spend most of their time around drains and tend to prefer dark, musty areas, while fruit flies like light and are more likely to live in your kitchen than the drain outside it.
Drain flies are tougher and more resilient than fruit flies too, and unlike fruit flies, when you remove their food source, they won’t simply move on. You’ll have to take more time and make more effort to get rid of them.
Bar fly is simply another name for fruit flies. They’re the same animal. Sometimes, fruit flies or vinegar flies are called bar flies because they like to hang around the bar looking for wine and other fermented beverages. However, when there’s no wine or beer around, they’ll be just as comfortable in the fruit bowl.
Most people have noticed that fruit flies really seem to appear out of nowhere. One moment your kitchen is pristine and bug free, and the next you have a swarm of fruit flies buzzing around. There are actually several ways fruit flies find their way into your home, and it depends a lot on the stage of their lives they’re at.
One of the most common ways that fruit flies find their way into your home is on your produce. They can hitch a ride on any kind of produce, but it’s more common when you have organic produce, because there are fewer pesticides used on those kinds of fruits and vegetables.
Sometimes, we move potted plants from outside into our homes, and when we do, we might also be inviting fruit fly larva into the space. A short time later, you’ve got a brand-new flock of flies buzzing around your space.
If you have poorly sealed windows and doors or missing insect screens, fruit flies can find their way in from outside too. Since fruit flies can smell rotting fruit and veggies from a very long way away, they might just invite themselves in for a snack, and decide to stay.
Finally, fruit flies love to hang around garbage cans, drains and garbage disposals. These are all places that tend to have lots of food for them, and they’re a common place for an infestation to start.
Fruit flies have four life stages, which are egg, larva, pupa and adult. Their total life span ranges from about 25 to about 50 days, but a lot depends on where they live and what the conditions and climate are like.
In terms of breeding potential, fruit flies even put rabbits to shame.
During their lifespan, the average female fruit fly will produce up to 500 young. All of the females from that group will also be ready to start breeding and laying eggs within two weeks, and they can all go on to produce another 500 individuals.
So it’s easy to see how you can go from no fruit flies to a full-on infestation in very little time at all.
Fruit fly eggs hatch into larvae, which are also known as maggots. This stage only lasts about four days though, and after the larva have eaten enough, they will become pupae, which are small and hard a look a lot like mouse droppings.
The fruit flies will stay pupas for about four days, and then they will emerge as adult fruit flies, ready to start the whole cycle again and produce hundreds more fruit flies in a matter of days.
It’s easy to see, when you look at the timeline of the average fruit fly life, why these little pests can quickly turn into a serious problem – and why you should tackle an infestation as soon as possible.
Fruit flies don’t bite or transmit diseases directly, so most people don’t think they’re a serious health concern.
However, fruit flies tend to buzz between very dirty areas like drains and garbage cans to produce and back again. This means that they can transfer bacteria and other pathogens from one place to another, and if you’re not meticulous about washing every piece of produce, which can result in some potentially dangerous infections for the people and animals in your home. Let’s look at some of the more serious disease risks.
E. Coli is a serious – sometimes even potentially fatal – bacterial infection that is usually transmitted through animal droppings. The symptoms of E. Coli are usually gastrointestinal, and they range from diarrhea and vomiting to severe stomach cramps.
Many people including the elderly and children will need medical attention and possibly even hospitalization for E. Coli.
Fruit flies can contaminate food with E. Coli if they have also visited a location where there is animal feces. This includes dumpsters and garbage cans where pet waste might be disposed of, or compost heaps where vermin might live.
Salmonella is not as dangerous as E. Coli, but it can still put people in the hospital, and is particularly dangerous for the elderly, the very young and pregnant women.
Like E. Coli, salmonella is often transmitted by fruit flies and other insects spend time in manure or animal feces, and then land on produce and other food in your home. Even if the insects don’t land on food to eat it, they can transfer the bacteria that causes Salmonella to the surface before moving on.
Listeria is another type of pathogen that can cause a serious case of what we think of as food poisoning.
The bacteria that cause listeria also live in animal feces, but can also survive in soil and water, which means there are more ways for it to be transferred to your food by fruit flies that might have lived in an area with one of those substances at some point in their life cycle.
Listeria is usually not fatal to healthy people, but again, it can be very dangerous to immune compromised people, the elderly, pregnant women, children and infants.
You’ve probably been told many times to wash produce before you eat it. Usually, it’s because of things like pesticides, which are commonly used on these kinds of foods while they are growing.
However, as you can see, it’s also very important to wash produce carefully to get rid of bacteria and other pathogens that might be on the surface of the fruit or vegetable. Even if a fly or fruit fly only landed on the surface of the produce for a few seconds, they could have transferred potentially dangerous bacteria, and those bacteria could be multiplying on the surface of the fruit.
Never eat anything – particularly if it will not be cooked or peeled – without first washing it thoroughly.
Now that you know where fruit flies come from, how quickly they can breed, and how they could be putting your health at risk, the next thing you need to know is how to get rid of them.
Because fruit flies can breed so quickly, and because they do have so many routes into your home or office, it’s usually not possible to eliminate them completely forever. But there are many things you can do to get rid of an active infestation, and to prevent them from coming back.
The good news about fruit flies is that they tend to move on when their food source disappears, so there are strategies you can use to make your home or business less fruit fly friendly.
Before you think about getting rid of fruit fly infestations, you should understand how you can prevent them from invading your space to begin with.
Since fruit flies tend to make their homes where their food is, most of the strategies used to keep them away are about limiting the amount of fruit fly food you have on offer in your home.
Most modern homes have windows and doors that are designed to keep insects and other pests out. However, over time, seals and screens can get damaged and ripped.
Check your doors, windows and screens at least once a year, and repair any visible damage that could allow insects and other pests into your home.
Keep your windows and doors closed as much as you can, and if you do have them open, make sure the screens are closed. In your office, you can use “air lock” systems with two sets of doors to help keep insects out, or you can use fly curtains that close with magnetic strips on doors that lead to the outside.
It might be tempting to store produce as is and only wash it when you use it, but that might allow fruit fly eggs to get established in your home.
Instead of waiting until you plan to use your produce, wash it when you bring it home, and then allow it to dry thoroughly before you store it. You can still wash it again before using it – this will simply ensure that any eggs that hitched a ride will be washed away.
The best place to store produce is usually in your fridge, or in sealed containers, or both. This is especially true for ripe fruit. Fruit flies (and other insects) can smell ripe fruit from a very long way away, and it might be all it takes to get them to move into your kitchen.
Check your produce every day too, and if you have any fruit that is overripe or starting to rot, throw it away before it attracts all the fruit flies in the neighborhood.
Even if you throw your old produce away regularly, if you have a garbage can that’s full of food that’s past it’s prime, it’s an all you can eat fruit fly buffet!
Look for garbage cans that seal tightly so that it’s harder for insects to get in and out, and don’t have a large garbage can inside your kitchen. Try to take out any food waste at least once a day and be sure to clean the inside of your garbage cans out regularly with water and a good detergent.
While fruit flies love rotting food and produce, they are also partial to the bits and pieces that get stuck in cleaning rags and mops. So if they can’t get to your fruits and vegetables, but you’ve got damp cleaning tools stored carelessly, you might still have a fruit fly problem on your hands.
Make sure that your cleaning implements and tools are cleaned properly after use and dry them before you store them. Don’t use cleaning rags for so long that they get really smelly either – they’ll smell just great to fruit flies!
Drains and garbage disposals are another place that can be full of rotting food, that fruit flies might find attractive.
Drains and garbage disposals should be cleaned regularly. Use hot water to rinse them between cleaning, and when you do clean them, use a commercial product that will dissolve and remove any built-up waste in the drain and pipes.
Baking powder and vinegar are also a great drain cleaning combination, and they’re all natural and fume free.
Most of us clean the areas we can see and reach in our kitchens from time to time, but there are plenty of places that you can’t see or reach easily.
Whether it’s food that’s found its way under the fridge or the stove, dirty drip trays or something else that’s hidden out of the way, it could very well be what is attracting fruit flies to your kitchen.
Make a point of cleaning toaster crumb trays, coffee makers, spills around juicers and all the other hidden and out of the way spots in your kitchen regularly.
Making your own compost is a great way to cut down on food waste, and compost can be great for your garden. But compost heaps are also like hanging a neon welcome sign for fruit flies.
If you are going to have a compost heap, invest in a good container that is designed for the purpose. Keep it far away from your home too, which could help to attract fruit flies and other pests away from your home, instead of keeping them close!
While fruit flies don’t usually like dog and cat food, old pet food in bowls can still attract fruit flies and other pests into your home. So if you have pets, make sure that when they’re done with their dinner, you clean their bowls properly.
Now that you know how to stop fruit flies from moving in, it’s time to look at some of the more common ways to get rid of fruit flies once they have already moved in. We’ll start with a few natural and easy to use commercial fruit fly remedies, and then we’ll look at how to get rid of fruit flies in specific parts of your home.
One of the easiest (and all natural) ways to get rid of fruit flies is to build a fruit fly trap.
You can do this with a glass with apple cider vinegar, or a mixture of apple cider vinegar and dish soap.
Pour a little of the liquid into a glass, cover with plastic wrap, and poke a few holes in the plastic. Fruit flies will follow their noses into the glass, but they’ll be unable to get back out, and before long they’ll get tired and fall into the liquid.
You can also try leaving nearly empty beer or wine bottles for the fruit flies. They’ll be able to get into the narrow necks, but they’ll have trouble getting back out.
Some fruit in a bowl covered with plastic wrap, again with a few holes poked in it, are a great way to trap fruit flies, or you can try any of these traps with a funnel instead of plastic wrap. The fruit flies will be able to find their way into the container, but not back out.
Flypaper is not the most attractive thing you can hang in your kitchen, but it certainly works well. You can buy it from most hardware and even some grocery stores, and it’s cheap and easy to use. You will need to change your flypaper from time to time, but that’s really quick and easy too.
If you want to get rid of fruit flies by spraying them, your best bet is to use peppermint, rosemary and lemongrass essential oils into water and use that to spray the offending insects. This is all natural and should not cause harm to your family or pets, but some people and pets might be sensitive to certain oils, so be careful, even when using natural sprays.
Now that we’ve got through fruit fly prevention and natural options to repel, trip and kill fruit flies in your home or office, it’s time to look at how you can get rid of fruit flies’ room by room.
We’ve already spoken a lot about how to prevent fruit flies in the kitchen, and how to deal with them when they have moved in, so let’s recap the important points:
Kitchens are by far the most common place to find fruit flies in your home or office, so it’s especially important to ensure you have a plan for prevention and removal.
If fruit flies can’t access produce or garbage in your kitchen, they’re more than happy to make do with drains inside or outside your home. There are several ways you can make your drains less attractive to fruit flies and other unwanted visitors, such as:
As a general rule of thumb, if your drains smell bad, they probably need to be cleaned. If you can’t get your drains clean enough on your own, you might need to call a plumber to fix the problem, and then simply keep up the maintenance on your drains in future.
Even though fruit flies prefer to live in your produce, they will make their home in a bathroom if they have no other option. Between the dampness and the possibility of plants in your bathroom, along with all the dead skin and other things that build up in this space, you could find that you develop a fruit fly problem from time to time.
Of course, a good clean is a must to keep fruit flies away, but you also want to make sure that your caulking is not damaged or cracked. Fruit flies love to lay their eggs in these kinds of dark crevices, and that might be the most important way to get rid of these little pests.
Fruit flies don’t only live inside homes. They can also make their home in your garden, particularly if you have plants that have fruit or you have a vegetable garden.
There are several ways you can make your garden less attractive for fruit flies, such as:
Fruit flies in your garden might be less of an annoyance than they are in your home but having them close by can lead to an infestation indoors too. It also makes using your backyard for entertaining and leisure a lot less pleasant, so it’s a good idea to get rid of the fruit flies that live outside your home too.
Unfortunately, because fruit flies can sneak into your home in so many different ways, and because they breed so quickly, there’s no way to get rid of them for good. So once you’ve solved a fruit fly problem, ensure you keep up with all these suggested prevention and removal methods. It will help to ensure they don’t get a foothold and make keeping your home a fruit fly-free zone a lot easier.
Don’t wait until you have a fruit fly problem to clean and flush your drains or wash out your garbage cans. Make it part of your regular routine, so you can stay ahead of the problem.
Also, remember that fruit flies are a seasonal problem. They tend to be a lot more prevalent in the summer months and tend to disappear when it gets cold. That doesn’t always mean that you’ve solved the problem, though, and if you don’t do the things that will get rid of fruit flies and keep them gone, they will just be back again next year.
If you have to have a compost heap, or you’re wondering where to put your garbage enclosure, the golden rule when it comes to fruit flies is to put them as far as possible from your home.
While these kinds of things can attract fruit flies, if you’re doing everything to keep fruit flies out of your home, they probably won’t bother to make the trip from the compost heap or the garbage cans to your kitchen. You should never have either of these things close to your home because it’s too easy to make the leap from one to the other.
Remember that there might also be other drains, garbage cans or compost heaps in your area that are attracting fruit flies to your neighborhood. So if you know it’s not your yard attracting these visitors, it might be time to take a walk around the neighborhood and look for potential problem areas.
One of the biggest problems with most insect infestations is that people often think they can take the time to “wait and see.” However, since a fruit fly colony can go from a few individuals to thousands in a matter of weeks, that’s usually not the best idea.
If the fruit flies in your home find their way into hard to reach places like drain traps, it could also be harder or even impossible to get rid of them on your own, and they’ll only keep breeding and producing more individuals.
If you’ve noticed a few fruit flies and their numbers are growing steadily, try the remedies we’ve mentioned, but if you can’t get them to budge, you will probably need to escalate your approach, sooner rather than later.
If you’ve tried everything and you still just can’t get rid of the fruit flies that are making your life miserable, you might be dealing with a more serious infestation. In that case, fruit flies might be living and breeding in places you can’t reach, and you might need products and methods that you can’t easily access as a consumer.
A professional pest control company will be able to visit your home and confirm that you are indeed dealing with fruit flies and not some other kind of insect. Remember that to the untrained eye, many insects look very similar, and if you’re not having any luck getting rid of fruit flies, it might be because you are dealing with a different kind of bug.
They’ll inspect the most common places for fruit flies to live and breed and identify the problem area or areas. They might even be able to tell you if something in your neighborhood or nearby is attracting fruit flies so you and your neighbors can take appropriate action.
Then they will develop a plan to get rid of the infestation, often using a multi-pronged approach.
In most cases, dealing with a fruit fly infestation will not require you to vacate your home for more than a few hours. The professional pest control company you hire might also suggest a follow-up treatment if you notice that you have some new flies emerging after they have been to treat your home. Sometimes, a few eggs can escape treatment, and they can quickly build up a new colony of the little pests.
If you’re looking for a professional pest control company to deal with fruit flies or any other kind of pest, we’d love to help. Reach out to our team for advice, information or to book a home inspection. Let’s get those unwanted visitors out of your house together!
Infestations don’t get better on their own. So if you’ve tried and failed, don’t wait! Call a professional to solve the problem as soon as you can.