Lord of the Flies

Swatting flies was, for some inexplicable reason, a topic of unusual interest in the Green home when I was growing up. My dad always likes to tell the story of how I killed a fly with a blowgun from about 15 feet. He claims I pinned it to the fireplace hearth with a dart, but, as I recall, it was cut in two with a thumper...and it was the luckiest thing I've ever accomplished.

He also taught me an ingenious method for swatting flies. And while I don't know where he learned this method, or if he developed it himself (care to fill us in, Dad?), it works. Really well. Like, 98% of the time if you're in cooler climates. (When I was in Army training in Southern Arizona in the summer, I discovered it wasn't as effective at high temperature.)

Here's what you do:
1. Fly lands.

2. Cup your striking hand and steadily move it into position some distance from the fly (at least one foot).

3. If you've done this correctly the fly will, the vast majority of the time, begin to clean it's filthy little legs and face.

4. Very slowly and steadily, move your hand down toward the fly.

5. The fly, at some point, will stop washing itself, and will quickly hunch down. At this point, your hand must stop and stay in that position. This is the space you have to work with.

6. The moment the fly begins washing again is your time to strike. Aim your hand at a place about a centimeter behind the fly, as flies take off by leaping backwards. Swat as quickly as possible.
If your aim, speed and hand-cuppage are on track, the fly will be caught in a concussive rush and will be knocked out. This allows you to avoid messy smashing. At this point, if you hate the idea of taking life, you can put the sweet little fly in a cup and take it outside. If you're like the rest of us, you can sweep it to the floor and step on it. Or hit it with a book.

Why am I bringing all this up? Well, NPR's Science Friday featured a story on Caltech bioengineer Michael Dickinson, and the research he's been doing with superfast video cameras on how flies operate. And, based on this video, NPR seems to be confirming with science what my dad knew many years ago. (Don't get used to it, Dad.)

(And for all you U2 fans who were disappointed this post wasn't about Bono, here's a little something just for you.)


  1. A tear has just run down my right eye. My number one son has listened and listened well. Love, Dad

  2. Jordan,

    It didn't work. I tried it and the fly ran away laughing and bugged me the whole afternoon.

    What am I doing wrong?


  3. sometimes, it just comes down to instincts, john. you've either got it or you don't.

    As for my dad's "number one son" comment, take that, Tyler!

  4. although, knowing Dick Green, he was talking more about how tyler is the second son, and you are his firstborn. Not necessarily his favorite. I am now Dad's favorite.... and even if he won't confirm this on the blog, I know it in my heart. and so does Dick.

  5. still, Mindy, what does it say in the Bible? Firstborns are always the best. And second-borns have to resort to putting goatskin on their arms in order to receive inheritances.

  6. In fairness to Tyler, he has a new fly killing method that is truly effective and quick in the kill. I prefer to let the fly think about it before it dies. Maybe, Tyler will share. I'm thankful that ALL of our children can kill flies.