Do flies think? If so, about what?

This column is part of a “Point-Counterpoint” pair. Read Tutta’s Take on the issue here.

What’s the deal on flies – houseflies that is, Musca domestica? Why can’t they leave us alone? If they’d just wait until a door opens and fly out, but no. They land on us, bite, interrupt deep thoughts and cause us to reach for a rolled up Hays Free Press to send them to happy cadaver land.

Recently I began to wonder why they are so persistently relational. What if, just what if, they have been trying to tell us something for the thousands of years they and we have existed together, a message of such great import that they would risk their lives in countless ways to relay. An apocalypse, a meteorite on a path to earth, a plague, the eruption of the Yellowstone lava dome?

Following the Oregon Trail via van in July, we crossed from Nebraska into Wyoming about lunchtime. Dagwood sandwich makin’s were in the ice chest, and when I opened the back hatch to get them, about 200 flies hitchhiked a ride.

At the day’s end we stopped at a motel and noticed at least a dozen flies remaining after my newspaper swats. Let them die of old age, we thought, but the next morning they were still in the car. Later, when I rolled down the window to ask about cabins at 3 Island State Park on the Snake River, about 50 more came in.

Rolling up my Hays Free Press again, I locked and loaded my elbow in swat position. One made a landing on my thigh right above the patella, and a nanosecond from dropping the hammer, I examined the quarry. In that moment of hesitation, 40 to 50 flies landed in a circle around the now center bug.They traveled clockwise, then counter-clockwise, all the time circling the special fly. They came toward the center, then regressed outward. I knew for sure this fly was special.

Then one approached the center fly and placed something on its head, bordering its compound eyes. Suddenly I realized the message was to be finally delivered, the one flies have been trying to relay to humans for centuries. And I had the responsibility to sound the alarm to the ends of the earth, saving mankind from doom.

Would it be about a giant tectonic plate readjustment, nuclear accident, invasion by aliens? What, what?

He jumped in the air and flew close to me. I could see the object on its head – a megaphone! Good grief, this fly had broken the speech code separating us from flies. In the future we would be grateful for this rescue. We would go on picnics together, honor the event in parks under a statue of a fly, with bands, balloons and fireworks. He landed on my ear and pulled the megaphone close to his mouth. Here it comes, I thought, the all important words:

“Build the Wall, Build the Wall!”

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