What attracts fruit flies and how to prevent them from coming back
Nearly everyone has a fruit fly story to tell. The little buggers are really hard to get rid of! No one likes fruit flies, especially when they try to fly up your nose or into your eyes.
And once you realize they are laying their eggs in your kitchen and that they carry bacteria and harmful microbes, well, that is that. It is time to take action.
Ridding your space of fruit flies is a two-part job. First, you have to know what attracts them and remove that. Then you have to make your space unfriendly so they will not return. Keep reading to find out how.
What Attracts Fruit Flies?
So what attracts fruit flies?
Fruit flies get their insect name honestly. They are primarily drawn to overripe, fermenting, rotting and decaying fruit.
But fruits are not the only organic matter fruit flies like. They can be drawn to anything that is moist or damp, moulding or decaying. Vegetables, bread, starches, juice, milk and even alcohol can lure them in.
Sometimes fruit flies will even be attracted to non-food items if water is present. Examples include damp mops, sponges, rags, and even standing water.
The key to remember is that fruit flies will be drawn to anything organic that is actively overripe, fermenting, rotting, mildewing or molding in some way.
Why Do Fruit Flies Like Ripe and Rotting Food and Matter?
So why exactly do fruit flues like ripe and rotting organic matter?
Fruit flies have two main reasons for congregating near ripe and rotting food and other damp or moist organic matter.
The first reason is that they are hungry. The second reason is that they are about to breed and lay eggs. Their offspring will need protection while they are incubating and then they will be hungry when they hatch.
Fruit flies that are ready to lay eggs will first use their tiny mouthparts to puncture holes in anything that is fermenting or actively rotting. They have their meal and then lay their eggs inside the food or organic matter.
Then when the larvae hatch, they have a ready food source right there to feed on.
You are probably reading this and thinking “yuck!” But to a fruit fly, it is the perfect system to get their needs met and pass on their genes to the next generation.
How Do You Know You Have Fruit Flies?
Fruit flies are definitely not the only flying insects that like ripe or rotting fruits and produce and fermented foods and liquids.
So how do you know that the insects you are trying to get rid of are actually fruit flies?
This is a very important question! In order to make sure you prevent the insects from coming back again, you first need to know what species you are dealing with.
Here is a common example:
Drain flies, which are small flies that breed in drains where small amounts of rotting organic matter and moisture is present, are quite similar to fruit flies. It is easy to get the two species confused.
But the method for getting rid of drain flies is different than what you need to do to get rid of fruit flies. So it is very important to be able to tell the two species apart.
A drain fly looks more like a very tiny moth, while a fruit fly looks more like a very tiny fly.
Here is another common example:
Sometimes you may see tiny black things buzzing around your houseplants. A lot of times, these fungus gnats are mistaken for fruit flies. But fungus gnats, like drain flies, look different when you can see them up close.
A fungus gnat looks more like a very tiny mosquito and it won’t have red eyes.
What Do Fruit Flies Look Like?
So let’s talk about what adult fruit flies look like so you can figure out if you have a fruit fly problem.
What exactly do fruit flies look like, anyway?
An adult fruit fly is going to be about one-eighth inch long. It will have red eyes. Its body will be tan or brown on the front (nearest the head) and black on the back.
There is no doubt it can be hard to get a good up-close look at a tiny buzzing fruit fly. But if what you are looking at looks a lot like a regular fly, only smaller and with a two-tone body and reddish eyes, it is most likely a fruit fly.
Once you’ve made a positive identification, it is time to switch to preventative mode and get rid of your fruit flies!
What Gets Rid of Fruit Flies?
Fruit flies can be pretty hard to tolerate, especially once you know they are infesting your produce and other places with their eggs!
So what can you do to get rid of fruit flies once and for all?
- Remove anything fruit flies like to eat or lay eggs in.
The first step to take is to remove anything and everything that might be attracting them. This may take some time and require some deep cleaning.
Remember, fruit flies are attracted to more than just that overripe peach on your counter top. So even if you have a small spill deep in your pantry that you don’t even know it is there, you can bet the fruit flies know and have already colonized it.
- Securely store anything that might attract fruit flies in the future.
The next step is to make sure you have a way to store produce and other attractive organic matter that keeps the fruit flies away.
In other words, you don’t need to stop eating produce or drinking juice. You just need to stay on top of the expiration dates and quickly pop anything attractive into the refrigerator (or trash can) as the need arises.
- Locate and eliminate all fruit fly nests.
This is the really yucky part, to be honest. After all, you can only guess where fruit flies may have laid eggs inside your space.
Some of these sites may be easy to spot. That rotten tomato for instance, where all the fruit flies are buzzing nearby, is an easy guess.
For less easy-to-spot nesting sites, you may have to just keep your eyes peeled. Anytime you see a fruit fly whiz by you need to get up and follow it.
These fruit flies may lead you to drains, garbage disposals, trash cans, recycle bins, compost piles and other less accessible areas. But then once you’ve found whatever it is that has attracted the flies, you can clean it up and remove the source of food and water permanently.
- Treat the area if need be.
Finally, if your fruit fly problem is really overwhelming, you may need to take some additional steps. Are there any treatments for fruit flies?
Happily, you do have options.
Some of your options will be of the do-it-yourself variety. Some will be professional. Your choice will depend on your budget, your tolerance for chemicals and the urgency of the situation.
What Other Treatments May Work to Remove Fruit Flies?
You have several levels of options to eliminate any fruit flies that may still be inside your space.
At the simplest level, you can try simply removing every possible food and water source and then cleaning really well. For mild infestations, this is often sufficient.
But if your problem isn’t completely resolved after you do this, it is probably because you haven’t found all of the nests and new fruit flies are still hatching inside your space.
At this point, it may be time to take further action.
You can make your own fruit fly traps with various ingredients:
- Apple cider vinegar and water.
- Vinegar and dish soap.
- Old beer or wine.
- Fruit juice with over-ripe fruit.
You can place your trap liquid of choice into a dish and cover it with plastic wrap that has a few tiny holes poked in it.
Another option is to place the liquid in a taller glass and put a paper funnel in the top.
Still another option is to simply use a beer bottle – the narrow neck will make getting out very challenging for the fruit flies.
Another option is to purchase commercial fly traps and aerosols that contain stronger chemicals like pyrethrin.
How Can You Keep Fruit Flies From Returning?
There is little in life more frustrating than taking the time to thoroughly scour your space until there isn’t a fruit fly in sight….only to wake up one morning and there they are again.
Is there anything that can completely prevent fruit flies from coming back?
The best prevention is your own vigilance. Fruit flies are persistent, pervasive pests. By keeping your window screens tight, cleaning regularly and refrigerating produce, you can remove any incentive for fruit flies to return to your space.