High tech response to the dreaded cluster fly

Print More

(Host) Who hasn’t felt the unpleasant thud of a cluster fly at this time of the year? The cluster fly’s appearance indoors is one of the less-celebrated winter migrations in cold weather climates like ours. The flies congregate in sunny windows, buzzing and batting around. But in the high tech world, there are new ways to fight the bugs.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports: (Zind) In the movie “The Amityville Horror,” a haunted house terrorizes a unsuspecting family with evil spirits, possession, destruction and… cluster flies:

(Sound from movie, creepy music and flies buzzing.) “God’s peace in this house.”

(Zind) This is the time of year cluster flies begin appearing inside, buzzing against windows, crashing into light bulbs and crawling on furniture. They congregate in large numbers, creating a racket and a nuisance.

(Gordon Nielson) “I’ve seen a cluster maybe as big as my fist once or twice in my professional life.”

(Zind) Gordon Nielson spent more than 25 years fielding cluster fly calls as the University of Vermont’s extension entomologist. Nielson says cluster flies idle away the summer sipping nectar from flowers. But when the cold nights arrive, they move indoors, hibernating inside walls. In the winter, when the sun warms the outside of the house, the cluster flies stir. They gravitate toward the warmer interior of the building. (Sound of flies buzzing.)

Cluster flies don’t breed inside the walls and they’re not attracted to food in the house. They’re not a health hazard. Just a mighty annoyance.

Vacuum cleaners can be a highly satisfying method of removing cluster flies. Sticky fly strips hung from the ceiling are also a time- honored remedy. Lately there’s been another weapon in the battle against cluster flies: the Cluster Buster.

It was developed by Tom Clarke of Vancouver, British Columbia. While working as an aerospace engineer, Clarke noticed a fly that couldn’t escape a synthetic powder he was using. The Cluster Buster was born. It’s a plastic trap that attaches to the inside top of windows. Woe to the fly that steps into the Cluster Buster.

(Clarke) “As opposed to a sticky board or a messy, gooey, smelly thing, we employ an ultra low-density dry powder mass. It’s snow white. It’s called ‘quicksand’ and it’s made from exploded egg shells. This material is something into which an insect will sink. It sticks to its feet so it can’t climb out. It can’t fly in it, so it suffocates, pardon the expression, without any pain.”

(Zind) Clarke says the trap can hold 1,000 flies and last for up to two years. It’s costs about $18. Clarke says he often hears from customers who had reached the end of their cluster fly rope before they discovered his trap.

(Clarke) “We’ve apparently saved over three dozen marriages. And it’s being given as wedding gifts.”

(Zind) Clarke says he’s sold about 30,000 Cluster Busters through his web site. About a third of his business comes from Northern New England and Vermonters have been among his most enthusiastic customers.

(Clarke) “We’ve been told numerous times that the state bird of Vermont is the cluster fly.”

(Zind) Clarke admits to feeling some appreciation for the cluster fly. When it’s not wintering it houses, it’s a useful pollinator. Even if we can’t celebrate it, we can take a cue from a well-known Vermont band and recognize the cluster fly as a familiar sign of the changing seasons:

(Song by Phish) “Welcome, this is our farmhouse. We have cluster flies, alas, And this time of year is bad. We are so very sorry, There is little we can do but swat them.”

(Zind) For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind.

Comments are closed.