Are fruit flies at their worst in the fall?

By Dr. Killigan
Are fruit flies at their worst in the fall?

Fruit flies—unlike gnats—are problematic year-round, but come harvest season, they’re much worse.

The drosophila melanogaster, known colloquially as the common fruit fly, is attracted to overly-ripe or rotting fruit and vegetables. They come, they breed, and they’re likely to stay. Unknowingly, it seems that you’ve chosen to keep them as pets, having created a scavenger game of never-ending treats for them to find throughout your kitchen. Without having the slightest inkling, you’re probably causing the fruit fly issue you’re experiencing.

This may bewilder you profoundly, but fruit flies and humans share 75% of disease-causing genes. The relationship is so close that often the sequences of newly discovered human genes can be matched with equivalent genes in the fly. It’s quite fascinating. The common fruit fly is actually one of the most commonly used model organisms for biomedical science. It is quite indispensable for basic basic research, as it’s entirely inexpensive to maintain, only needing its food changed regularly, is so minute that one (a scientist mind you) can easily house a million of them at a time, and has such a short, simple reproductive cycle—approximately 8-14 days—that one can observe several generations in a matter of months.

As a young child, I asked my mother if I could have a fruit fly as a pet. I was already quite intrigued by them. Mom was on her knees in our side yard, her curls swept back by a peach-colored scarf that was knotted tightly at the nape of her neck. I could see beads of perspiration collecting on her pale forehead, with her soft tendrils gathering moisture and sticking to her nearly translucent skin. Wiping her hand across her face, she left a streak of rich earth in its wake. "Pardon," she inquired, while her glass-blue eyes met mine. "Mom," I replied, "can I have a fruit fly?" Tossing her head back in the sunshine, she smiled, with deep creases showing on her lightly-freckled cheeks. "Of course, dear," she said, and then quickly returned to planting her tulips.

It was fall, tulip-planting season. Soon thereafter, mom and I walked to the local farmer’s market. I carried the hand-sewn vegetable basket. My grandmother had made it, hand-weaving the various vegetable fibers together. It was our most sturdy basket. We purchased various sizes of orange, red, and green tomatoes, all plump and gorgeous looking, long crookneck squash, green Granny Smith apples that I wanted to bite into that very minute, and medium-sized, still dirt-covered potatoes. I could already taste the buttery lightly-salted slightly-mashed creamy potatoes that my mom would make that Sunday.

We carried the wealth of our nation home. I felt gratitude then, even as a child, for the vast array of produce that we were able to purchase.

Waking several days later, though, I quickly realized my error in wanting to house a fruit fly: We had a full blown fruit fly infestation. At age 7, I began working on the intial version of what decades later would become Sweet Surrender Fruit Fly Lure & Killer.

Especially in the fall, when the work of your hands (or that of a local farmer) is colorfully displayed on your countertops, Sweet Surrender is vital. You may not have a fruit fly infestation today, but perhaps tomorrow. Don’t leave yourself unarmed. Don’t let those tiny miscreants land on your fruit and cause you a bellyache later that day.

Why preparation is key (before you have fruit flies in your home)

  • Fruit flies reproduce quickly. They’re master egg-layers. The female lays 30-50 eggs per day throughout her lifetime, which can equate to 2,000 eggs over the duration of about 50 days, (a fruit fly’s lifespan). These eggs turn into tiny eating maggots a mere 30 hours thereafter that are adults and ready to breed within two days time.
  • Though your home may seem tidy to you, fruit flies know how to locate the goods, whether it be the residue inside of an ‘empty’ ketchup bottle, in which a few hundred could breed, or in the liquid spills of the bottom of your dirty garbage can, in which a few thousand eggs could be laid. 
  • Once you discover a fruit fly infestation, without being properly armed with the right fruit-fly-killing tools, your home could turn into a breeding site, one that you’re unable to gain back control of—from a few days to a few weeks. This is why I and other experts highly recommend being prepared, regardless of whether or not it’s for today’s harvest season.

Why do I (already) have fruit flies? What are they attracted to?

If you’re asking yourself this question, it’s probably because you’re under the assumption that fruit flies will only eat and breed on the hand of black-speckled ripening bananas on your countertop, which makes perfect sense. It is a logical train of thought.

Fruit flies, though, are attracted to, and will breed on, much more than ripening bananas (and other fermenting fruit). They are also enraptured by:

  • Vinegar, sugar, and citrus fruits, (all three of which I will discuss in a following section)
  • Honeydew secreted by aphids
  • The sap flow from plants
  • Fermenting fruits, including melons and apples
  • Fermenting vegetables, including tomatoes, squash, onions, potatoes, and mushrooms
  • Other fermenting material, including the goo in the bottom of your trash can
  • Decaying meat
  • Alcoholic beverages

Where will I find fruit flies in my house?

Check out these obscure in-house locations for any fruit-fly-activity with the understanding that fruit flies will feast on and lay their eggs on any fermenting material, regardless of whether or not this is from fruit, vegetable, or alcoholic fermentation.

  • Drip pan under the refrigerator
  • Potato or onion bins
  • Dirty garbage disposals or drains and trash compactors
  • Spills in the bottom of recycling bins
  • ‘Vinegary’ food containers, including ketchup and mustard bottles, beer bottles, pickle jars, etc. that still have residue inside 
  • Spills under appliances 
  • Residue in the bottom of garbage cans

What makes Sweet Surrender the best fruit fly trap?

The magic of Sweet Surrender lies in its perfect elixir of sodium lauryl sulfate, vinegar, sucrose, and citrus. This superb blend makes trapping easy and will have the fruit flies sleeping with the fishes.

  • Vinegar produces acetic acid, which is a byproduct of fermentation, and thus a very powerful fruit fly attractant. Acetic acid, as the ultimate result of the fermentation process in fruit and alcohol, gives vinegar its characteristic odor. It speaks to the fruit fly moths, saying ‘Lay your eggs here! Now!’
  • Sucrose attracts fruit flies because these flying nuisances need sugar as a quick source of calories in order to fly around. It quenches their need. 
  • Citrus is a fruit fly’s fruit of preference, as the fruit fly is drawn to a class of odorous compounds called terpenes, especially the terpene limonene, which is present in sweet oranges, Mandarin oranges, clementines, and other citrus fruits.
  • Sodium lauryl sulfate, a non-toxic surfactant that is found in many personal care products such as toothpaste, keeps the fruit flies from further breeding, as they think they’re coming for a tasty treat (the product’s attractants) and then find themselves drowning in the liquid, as the SLS causes the fruit flies to sink by breaking through the surface tension of the water.

An added bonus is that Sweet Surrender has a shelf-life of two years (when stored properly), the citric acid and red wine vinegar doing their work as natural preservatives. So, if you don’t need it now, it’s there, tucked away on your pantry shelf for the day that you do.

Be proactive. Catch those fruit flies before they turn your home into their favored breeding stations. Together, let’s get rid of them before you even know they’re there.


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4 comments
  • Interesting that the secretion from aphids also attracts fruit flies. Does this mean there is also an uptick during the spring, when aphids begin to appear in my garden?

    Jason on
  • It is crazy to learn that fruit flies and humans share 75% of disease-causing genes. I had no idea they added to the medical field study in such a way. It’s mind-boggling how insects of such a small magnitude can make a difference in the world. Also, thank you for the DIY items to look out for in order not to create a fruit fly infestation. We appreciate you Dr. Killigan!

    Elyse on
  • Hello V,

    Isn’t it crazy how quickly these pests can reproduce? This is one of the reasons they can be such a nuisance.

    I am glad our blog post has helped bring some clarity to your situation. If you need any further assistance please feel free to reach out to our Customer Service Team.

    Cheers, Vanessa and the Dr. Killigan’s Team

    Vanessa on
  • Wow! I had no idea fruit flies could reproduce so quickly. That explains why I have been seeing so many of those little bugs in my kitchen. After reading this I need to go back through and clean my kitchen again. I thought getting rid of the old fruit on the counter would do the trick but I didn’t even think about cleaning out the bottom of my trash can.

    V on

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