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Musca domestica

What do they look like?

Houseflies have dark gray or gray and yellow bodies with dark lines. The main part of their body, called their abdomen, has 8 segments in males and 9 segments in females. Females have 5 segments of their abdomen visible all the time. She sticks out the other 4 when she lays her eggs. This way, she can lay eggs under the surface. Females are a little bit bigger than males. Like all flies, they only have one pair of translucent wings for flying and the second pair are only used for balance. Houseflies are 4 to 8 mm long, and are 6.35 mm long on average. Larvae are 12 to 13 mm long, yellowish white, and have smooth and shiny bodies. (Borror, et al., 1989; Dahlem, 2003; Hewitt, 1914; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Like many flies, houseflies have mouthparts like sponges. They mouths are made up of two fleshy parts attached to their lower lip. The lips have grooves that are like channels for the liquid food they eat. Housefly larvae have hooks on their mouths which they use to eat bacteria. (Borror, et al., 1989; Dahlem, 2003; Hewitt, 1914; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • female larger
  • Average mass
    .012 g
    0.00 oz
  • Range length
    4 to 8 mm
    0.16 to 0.31 in
  • Average length
    6.35 mm
    0.25 in
  • Range wingspan
    13 to 15 mm
    0.51 to 0.59 in

Where do they live?

Houseflies are found almost anywhere, especially places where humans live too. They probably came originally from the Eastern Hemisphere in temperate areas, meaning places that have seasons. (Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

What kind of habitat do they need?

Houseflies live close to humans, in urban and rural areas. Because their larvae grow best in human garbage and feces, they are more common in urban areas. Their favorite environments are dung heaps, garbage cans, and roadkill. They also reproduce on rotted fruit and vegetables, old broth, boiled eggs, and even rubber. (Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Houseflies live in temperate regions, meaning places that have seasons. They are most common in warm seasons, but some of them survive the winter. Their ideal temperatures are between 10 and 26.6 degrees Celsius. If it gets colder than 7.2 degrees Celsius, houseflies stop being active. If it gets less than 0 or above 44.4 degrees Celsius, they die. They are more likely to die from hot or cold when it's also very humid. Larvae are best able to survive between 30 and 35 degrees Celsius. (Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

How do they grow?

Housefly development has 4 steps: egg, larva or maggot, pupa, and adult. Houseflies can go through this entire cycle in as little as 7 to 10 days. This is why they can have up to 10 to 12 generations in just one summer. In North America and Europe, houseflies are common from July through September. In South America and Australia, they are most common from October to February or March. (Bryant and Hall, 1999; Kozielska, et al., 2006; Kozielska, et al., 2011; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

In warm weather, housefly larvae hatch in 8 to 12 hours. In cooler weather, hatching takes up to 24 hours. After the larvae hatch, they use two hooks in their mouth to burrow into animal or human feces, and get nutrients from it. The larvae take 5 days to completely develop. They are most likely to survive in rotten vegetables mixed with animal feces or other parts. This is why they are often found in garbage. Housefly larvae prefer pig, horse, and human feces to cow feces. Next, larvae spend up to 3 or 4 days moving to a dry area. Then, they spend 4 days continuing to develop as pupae. (Bryant and Hall, 1999; Kozielska, et al., 2006; Kozielska, et al., 2011; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

The spot where females lay their eggs depends on how many other larvae are there. Females want their larvae to get a lot of nutrients so they grow into bigger adults. If there are a lot of larvae in a spot, then that spot has a lot of nutrients. But if there are too many larvae in a spot, the nutrients get used up. This means that places with a medium number of larvae are the best for the larvae. (Bryant and Hall, 1999; Kozielska, et al., 2006; Kozielska, et al., 2011; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

How do they reproduce?

Male houseflies mate with many females, but females usually only mate with one male. (Jalil and Rodriguez, 1970; LaBrecque, et al., 1962; Murvosh, et al., 1964; Tobin and Stoffolano, 1973)

Males can reproduce when they are 16 hours old, and females can reproduce when they are 24 hours old. Males court females through positioning, landing, putting their wing out, their leg up, head lapping and touching, boxing, and backing. Females can reject the males at any point, especially if they have already mated with another male. First, the male strikes the female, which means he pushes her wings open and they vibrate. This can happen either while in flight or on the ground. If they were in the air, they both fall down to a surface. There is also a loud buzzing noise at this time. Then, the male strokes the female’s head. Sometimes females fly away quickly, or shake violently to get rid of the male. Sometimes, striking happens between two males or with one male on an object that is not a fly. This is because they cannot tell exactly which flies or objects are female flies. (Hewitt, 1914; Marshall, 2006; Murvosh, et al., 1964; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Houseflies reproduce faster than many other kinds of flies. Females lay white, oval-shaped eggs on moist animal feces or garbage, especially when they are in the light. Females lay about 500 eggs in their lives. They lay them 5 to 6 groups of 75 to 150 eggs over a time of 3 to 4 days. Females only need one mate to lay all of their eggs. When the eggs hatch into larvae, they weigh .008 to .02 g. (Hewitt, 1914; Marshall, 2006; Murvosh, et al., 1964; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

  • How often does reproduction occur?
    Females lay 5 to 6 batches of eggs over the course of 3 to 4 days.
  • Breeding season
    Houseflies can breed year-round, but most often in the summer from June through October. The peak breeding months are July, August, and September.
  • Range eggs per season
    75 to 150
  • Average gestation period
    24 hours
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    24 (low) hours
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    16 (low) hours

Female houseflies find a place for their eggs that has nutrients and is moist. After she deposits her eggs, the female allows them to develop on their own. Males do not invest in the development of their young. (Bryant and Hall, 1999; Hewitt, 1914; Robinson, 2005)

How long do they live?

  • Range lifespan
    Status: wild
    60 (high) days
  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    15 to 25 days

How do they behave?

Houseflies are active during the day. They are especially active during the hottest and driest part of the day which is between 2 and 4 pm. Adults are not active at night but will move to artificial light at night. (Hafez, 2005; Hewitt, 1914; Kelling, et al., 2002; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Houseflies are attracted to the smell of food. Their mouths are like sponges, so they can only eat liquid or dissolved food, and nothing wider than .045 mm. This means they spit saliva and food from their stomach on their food to digest it. Their spit up food looks like straw-colored spots, and their feces looks like dark spots. Houseflies eat with their mouths but taste with their feet, which is why they crawl on food. (Hafez, 2005; Hewitt, 1914; Kelling, et al., 2002; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Houseflies can fly in short distances at a speed of up to 15 miles per hour. They can beat their wings up to 1,000 times per minute. This is what makes a buzzing sound when they are flying. In their lives, they can travel 27 to 1080 m in urban areas and 5 to 7 miles in rural areas. This is because humans are closer together in urban areas. The farthest recorded that a housefly traveled is 20 miles. Houseflies travel to cooler and drier spots when they are about to become pupae. They try to find places that are cooler than 15 degrees Celsius. This temperature is common at the edges of dung heaps. (Hafez, 2005; Hewitt, 1914; Kelling, et al., 2002; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

  • Range territory size
    27 to 9000 m^2
  • Average territory size
    400 m^2

Home Range

Houseflies can travel 20 to 27 miles. The size of the area where they live depends on what resources are available. The number of houseflies is high where there are a lot of humans. (Hafez, 2005; Hewitt, 1914; Kelling, et al., 2002; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

How do they communicate with each other?

Houseflies have senses of smell, touch, and sight, and also understand chemical signals like pheromones. Their sense of smell is located in their antennae and used to find food. Researchers measure the electricity in the smelling cells on their antennae to tell if a housefly is attracted to a smell or repelled by it. This is how they figure out how to repel flies with smells they don’t like. (Bryant and Hall, 1999; Kelling, et al., 2002)

Houseflies have taste hairs which they use to taste food, and many of them are in their feet. They have other hairs all over their bodies that feel air flow and help stop them from running into things while flying. They have compound eyes made up of many eye cells, and can see lights and motions. (Bryant and Hall, 1999; Kelling, et al., 2002)

Houseflies are attracted to soil or feces that has chemicals in from other larvae called metabolites. These chemicals show that there are other larvae and nutrients there. This is used by females to decide where to lay their eggs. (Bryant and Hall, 1999; Kelling, et al., 2002)

What do they eat?

Houseflies eat milk, sugar, blood, feces, and rotting foods like fruits and vegetables. Houseflies need to be able to drink water, too. Their larvae also eat paper, and things like wool, cotton, and sacks if they are moist and at the right temperature. (Hewitt, 1914; Kelling, et al., 2002; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

  • Animal Foods
  • blood
  • body fluids
  • carrion
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit
  • Other Foods
  • dung

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

Houseflies are eaten by beeltes and mites like histerid beetles Carcinops pumilio and Dendrophilus xavieria. Other predators are muscid flies, and the macrochelid mites Glyptholapsis confusa and Macrocheles muscaedomesticae. (Ceden, et al., 1988; Jalil and Rodriguez, 1970)

What roles do they have in the ecosystem?

Houseflies are important in breaking down and recycling nutrients and organic material. They live near humans and human waste. They avoid competition with related flies by eating feces from different kinds of animals. Houseflies are also impacted by dung beetles, which disturb housefly larvae living in dung. (Dahlem, 2003; Lam, et al., 2009; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Housefly larvae compete with fungi for nutrients, because both grow in manure. One kind of bacteria called Klebsiella oxytoca reduces the amount of fungi that grow in manure. This bacteria competes with fungi for nutrients and releases chemicals that make it difficult for the fungi to grow. This means houseflies get access to nutrients. The bacteria can live on housefly eggs. (Dahlem, 2003; Lam, et al., 2009; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Houseflies are eaten by beetles and mites. In some places, humans also grow their larvae to feed to fish, poultry, pigs, and mink grown on farms. Insects are cheaper for fish to eat than many other foods. (Dahlem, 2003; Lam, et al., 2009; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Species (or larger taxonomic groups) that are mutualists with this species
  • bacteria (Klebsiella oxytoca)

Do they cause problems?

Houseflies are one of the most mutable species, which allows them to be resistant to all major classes of chemical insecticides. Some mechanisms of resistance include enhanced metabolic degradation, diminished target site sensitivity, reduced rates of cuticle penetrance, sequestration of toxins, and behavioral changes that allow them to avoid the toxic residues. Houseflies may develop multiple of these resistance factors. (Dahlem, 2003; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Houseflies live in a very large area and are big pests to humans. Housefly feces can spread many diseases like typhoid fever, amoebic and bacillary dysentery, diarrhea, cholera, pinworm, tapeworm, hookworms (Necator americanus and Ncylostoma duodenal, yaws, anthrax, Cryptosporidium parvum, and some forms of conjunctivitis. Houseflies do not bite. (Dahlem, 2003; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Houseflies can’t be killed by a lot of chemicals that kill other insects. They resist chemical poisons by breaking them down, having thick skin, avoiding the chemicals, or other methods. (Dahlem, 2003; Marshall, 2006; Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

  • Ways that these animals might be a problem for humans
  • injures humans
    • carries human disease
  • crop pest
  • household pest

How do they interact with us?

Houseflies break down rotting plants and animals and recycle nutrients. (Robinson, 2005; Swan and Papp, 1972)

Are they endangered?

Houseflies are not threatened or endangered. They are very common.

  • IUCN Red List [Link]
    Not Evaluated

Contributors

Jonelle Doctor (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Catherine Kent (editor), Special Projects.

References

Borror, D., C. Triplehorn, N. Johnson. 1989. An Introduction to the Study of Insects. Orlando, Florida: Saunders College Publishing.

Bryant, E., A. Hall. 1999. The Role of Medium Conditioning in the Population Dynamics of the Housefly. Researches on Population Ecology, 16, 2: 188-197. Accessed March 26, 2012 at http://www.springerlink.com/content/q1gq5g8385j45414/fulltext.pdf.

Ceden, C., R. Stinner, R. Axtell. 1988. Predation by Predators of the House Fly in Manure: Effects of Predator Density, Feeding History, Interspecific Interference, and Field Conditions. Environmental Entomology, 17, 2: 320-329. Accessed March 25, 2012 at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/esa/envent/1988/00000017/00000002/art00030.

Dahlem, G. 2003. House Fly (Musca Domestica). Pp. 532-534 in V Resh, R Carde, eds. Encyclopedia on Insects, Vol. 1, 1 Edition. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Gullan, P., P. Cranston. 2010. The Insects: An Outline of Entomology, 4th Edition. Southern Gate, Chichester, West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

Hafez, M. 2005. On the behavior and sensory physiology of the house-fly larva, Musca domestica L. II. Prepupating stage. Journal of Experimental Zoology, 124, 2: 199-225. Accessed April 06, 2012 at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jez.1401240202/abstract.

Hewitt, C. 1914. The House Fly: Musca Domestica, Linnaeus: Its Structure, Habits, Development, Relation to Disease and Control. Cambridge: University Press. Accessed March 25, 2012 at ttp://books.google.com/books?id=13S9AAAAIAAJ&pg=PR11&lpg=PR11&dq=houseflies+ocean&source=bl&ots=kW8nC10KVj&sig=SqQTGuzXls5jeKdqW6Q6Yd1wmH8&hl=en&sa=X&ei=1m5vT-DvAsS3twftotC-Bg&ved=0CC8Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=houseflies%20ocean&f=false.

Jacobs Sr., S. 2007. "House Flies" (On-line). Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Entomology. Accessed January 24, 2012 at http://ento.psu.edu/extension/factsheets/house-flies.

Jalil, M., J. Rodriguez. 1970. Studies of Behavior of Macrocheles muscaedomesticae with Emphasis of its Attraction to the House Fly. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 63 (3): 738-744. Accessed February 24, 2012 at ttp://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/esa/aesa/1970/00000063/00000003/art00026.

Jalil, M., J. Rodriguez. 1970. Studies of Behavior of Macrocheles muscaedomesticae with Emphasis on its Attraction to the House Fly. Annels of the Entomological Society of America, 63, 3: 738-744. Accessed March 25, 2012 at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/esa/aesa/1970/00000063/00000003/art00026.

Kelling, F., F. Lalenti, C. Den Otter. 2002. Background odour induces adaptions and sensitization of olfactory receptors in the antennae of houseflies. Medical and Veterinary Entomology, 16, 2: 161-169. Accessed March 26, 2012 at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2915.2002.00359.x/full.

Kozielska, M., I. Pen, L. Beukeboom, F. Weissing. 2006. Sex ratio selection and multi-factorial sex determination in the housefly: a dynamic model. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 19, 3: 879-888. Accessed March 26, 2012 at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16674584.

Kozielska, M., L. Beukeboom, F. Weissing, I. Pen. 2011. "Sex determination and sexual conflict in the housefly, Musca domestica" (On-line). Accessed April 06, 2012 at http://www.rug.nl/biologie/onderzoek/onderzoekgroepen/evolutionarygenetics/people/sexhousefly?lang=en.

LaBrecque, G., D. Meifert, C. Smith. 1962. Mating Competitiveness of Chemosterilized and Normal Male House Flies. Science, 136 (3514): 388-389. Accessed February 24, 2012 at http://www.sciencemag.org/content/136/3514/388.short.

Lam, K., K. Thu, M. Tsang, M. Moore, G. Gries. 2009. Bacteria on housefly eggs, Musca domestica, suppress fungal growth in chicken manure through nutrient depletion or antifungal metabolites. Naturwissenschaften, 96: 1127-1132. Accessed March 26, 2012 at http://www.springerlink.com/content/n572h478h68h23th/fulltext.pdf.

Marshall, S. 2006. Insects: Their Natural History and Diversity. Buffalo, New York: Firefly Books Ltd..

McGavin, G. 2000. Insects: Spiders and Other Terrestrial Arthropods. New York, N.Y.: Dorling Kindersley Inc..

Murvosh, C., R. Fye, G. Labrecque. 1964. Studies of the Mating Behavior of the House Fly, Musca Domestica. The Ohio Journal of Science, 64(4): 264-271. Accessed February 24, 2012 at http://scholar.googleusercontent.com/scholar?q=cache:e2FIMk7xILgJ:scholar.google.com/+house+flies+behavior&hl=en&as_sdt=0,23.

Newton, B. 2004. "House Flies" (On-line). University of Kentucky Entomology. Accessed January 24, 2012 at http://www.uky.edu/Ag/CritterFiles/casefile/insects/flies/houseflies/houseflies.htm.

Robinson, W. 2005. Urban Insects and Arachnids: A Handbook of Urban Entomology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Sanchez-Arroyo, H., J. Capinera. 2008. "house fly - Musca domestica Linnaeus" (On-line). Entomology & Nematology - University of Florida. Accessed January 24, 2012 at http://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/urban/flies/house_fly.htm.

Swan, L., C. Papp. 1972. The Common Insects of North America. New York, N.Y.: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc..

Tobin, E., J. Stoffolano. 1973. The Courtship of Musca Species Found in North America. 1. The House Fly, Musca domestica. Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 66 (6): 1249-1257. Accessed February 24, 2012 at http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/esa/aesa/1973/00000066/00000006/art00015.

 
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Doctor, J. 2013. "Musca domestica" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed December 22, 2014 at http://www.biokids.umich.edu/accounts/Musca_domestica/

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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