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Houshold Nuisance

The invasion of the fruit flies Add to ...

When Rami Posner comes down to his Toronto kitchen in the morning and nudges the toaster or an unwashed plate, he awakens the sleeping masses: hundreds of fruit flies that begin to swirl and buzz.

"It's unbelievable," he said, disgusted by the number of flies that now join him for breakfast and have made his family's home their own. "This year it's extraordinary."

Back in the summer of 2001, clouds of aphids swarmed the city. Now, it seems, it's the fruit flies' turn.

Pest control experts say the city workers strike is to blame for the fruit fly boom.

Mitch Trimble, a research scientist with Agriculture and Agri-food Canada said that torn garbage bags full of decomposing organic material are the perfect breeding ground for the flies, who lay their eggs in rotting food.

But once the strike ended, he said, these new armies went on a mission to find new places to breed.

Their search has ended in kitchens, backyard composts, and gardens throughout the city.

Canadian Tire stores across Toronto are sold out of fruit fly traps as residents complain of an invasion. Some Torontonians, like Mr. Posner, have seen hundreds of the spec-sized bugs buzzing around their garbage cans, living rooms, and vegetable gardens.

Allan Colacci, a sales associate at the Canadian Tire at Lawrence and the Allen Expressway, said he has seen a huge increase in the number of customers complaining about fruit flies.

One woman in search of traps said she was having trouble reading because of all the buzzing. A man complained of hundreds swarming out of his sewer drains, flying "all over the place and driving him crazy."

The store, like others across the city, is sold out of both fruit fly traps and recommended sprays.

Advantage Pest Control president Art Bossio said he began noticing an increase in the number of fruit fly complaints several weeks ago.

While call volume usually increases in the summer and early fall when residents are bringing more ripe fruits and vegetables into their homes, Mr. Bossio said he is now getting four to eight calls a week, versus one to two this time last year.

"There's more flies period," he said, and "the only thing we could probably blame it on is the fermentation of fruits and foods in the garbage strike."

While fruit flies may be a nuisance, health officials say residents have no reason to be concerned. The flies are harmless to humans.

"Fruit flies are not typically thought of as the type of flies that transmit disease," said Howard Shapiro, associate medical officer of health at Toronto Public Health.

Hannah Fraser, entomologist for horticultural crops at the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs said that people frequently consume fruit fly eggs without noticing because they're so tiny.

"It's nothing to panic about," she said.

Still, the idea of eating maggots is less than appetizing.

Experts say that eliminating fruit flies begins with sanitation.

Ms. Fraser recommends tossing garbage and rotting food, refrigerating all perishables and disinfecting kitchen countertops.

But Mr. Posner said he's already tried all that. He keeps his kitchen clean and immediately washes the fruit he buys, wraps it in saran wrap, and puts it in the fridge.

He's also tried using home-made traps with red wine, honey and lemon juice as lures, but the flies just swarm around the bowl and never get trapped inside, he complained.

On Monday, Mr. Posner noticed that the flies had even begun to move upstairs, into his sons' bedrooms. "Enough is enough," he said.

But at least one person is enjoying the Posners' new house guests: Isaiah, Mr. Posner's three-year-old son.

"He loves bugs," Mr. Posner said. "He's fascinated by the whole thing."

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