What To Know About Common Flies

Flies are found throughout the globe but many winged insects are mistakenly considered to be them. There are over 100,000 species of flies and are considered small, winged insects with soft bodies and a single set of wings.[1] They also have a distinct set of organs called “halteres” which are located behind their wings that function as balancers during flight.[4] What likely makes some flies more of a nuisance than others are when they breed and seek shelter indoors or are a part of a smaller group that bite humans and other animals. The most common household flies are house, bow, cluster, little house, picturewinged, fungus gnats and humpback.[2]

  • Blow flies are identified by their shiny, metallic colors. They seek shelter in homes during late fall and winter.[2] They are scavengers of animal-based materials and breed in unsanitary surfaces and materials.
  • House flies are one of the most common found indoors and have a gray exterior with four black stripes on their back. [5] They breed in manure and feed on a variety of substances including sugars, solid foods, rotted fruit and vegetables as well as garbage. Both blow and house flies pose a health risk due to their ability to carry bacteria from surface to surface.
  • Cluster flies are often found in higher elevations, notably in taller buildings during the cool months. Unlike their close relative, the blow fly, clusters target earthworms and are found outdoors in fields and lawns. They are known to shelter in indoors during cool months in an almost hibernation mode until warm weather arrives and they can return outdoors.[2]
  • Biting flies are also a nuisance to people and animals alike. They locate humans and other animals by sensing certain substances, including the carbon dioxide and moisture in exhaled breath, dark colors and movement, warmth and perspiration. [3] Bites from black flies, horseflies and stable flies are known to produce severe allergic reactions in people. For example, the deer fly can transmit “rabbit fever” or tularemia.
[1] “List of flies” Richard Pallardy. Brittanica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/list-of-fly-2073944
[2] “Flies in the Home” W.S. Cranshaw and F.B. Peairs. Colorado State University. https://extension.colostate.edu/topic-areas/insects/fly-in-the-home-5-502/
[3] “Biting Flies” Illinois Department of Public Health – Prevention & Control. http://www.idph.state.il.us/envhealth/pcbitingflies.htm
[4] “True Flies (Diptera)” Bug Info. Smithsonian Institute. https://www.si.edu/spotlight/buginfo/true-fly-diptera
[5] “Kentucky Critter Files. House Flies” Blake Newton, Department of Entomology, University of Kentucky. https://www.uky.edu/Ag/CritterFiles/casefile/insects/fly/houseflies/houseflies.htm

How To Eliminate Common Flies

Eliminating fly infestations indoors and outdoors depends on the type of fly. If dealing with a common fly issue, a combination of sanitation and traps could tackle the problem from both ends. Sanitation is the most important first step to manage almost any type of fly issue. These indoor pests thrive where there are sources of food on which they develop. Most adults will remain present for a week or more, until they die out. [2] Moist garbage is a breeding ground for house flies, little house flies, and blow flies. As temperatures warm, garbage is a desirable place for them so keeping containers covered prevents them access to both your home as well as the garbage itself. Outdoor storage is preferred when storing garbage and traps can be hung around these areas to address adults. Removing household garbage every 3 to 4 days from Spring through Fall is a best practice.

Fly traps in the form of ribbons, sticks, bags or jars are effective in catching adult flies outdoors. When hung outside and baited as directed, these common flies can be trapped before they find shelter in your home. Additionally, screening and traps near entryways can be important steps to further prevent flies that develop outdoors and use buildings like homes, barns, garages and sheds for temporary shelter. Properly maintained screens can fend many off from coming indoors. Open windows without screens provide an open invite for these common pests. Another type of indoor fly can also benefit from keeping areas clean. For example, fungus gnats can take up residence in the pots of houseplants due to overly damp soil or decomposing plant materials like old leaves. Maintaining houseplants and not overwatering them can keep fungus gnats from appearing in your home.

How To Eliminate Biting Flies

Biting flies are strong and fast fliers. They seek a blood meal from animals and humans alike. Dealing with bites is an issue for livestock as well as homeowners and those enjoying the outdoors. Because they are larger than most species, keeping them outside is achieved with the use of screens and proper window maintenance. Fly paper, traps, repellents and a variety of preventive methods are all ways to address biting flies. Avoiding areas where there is a lot of them is also important. Biting flies can be found often around marshes, bays, ponds and lakes. For example, deer fly larvae are aquatic so deer fly adults will be near water[3].

When in these areas, treating biting flies like mosquitoes or ticks is equally effective. Covering exposed skin with heavy-duty, light-colored clothing that includes long-sleeve shirts and pants is a preventive measure for biting flies as much as it is for mosquitoes.v

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lantern flies invasive

Spotlight on an Invasive Fly Species

The Spotted Lanternfly is an invasive species native to Asia. In 2014 it was found in Pennsylvania, and it has since been contained to only a few states in the Northeast. The Spotted Lantern Fly is a “planthopper”, a term used to describe a type of fly that hops short distances rather than flies long distances to seek food. They are known to consume the sap of several tree and plant species.

Spotted lanternflies feed on a wide range of fruit, ornamental and woody trees, with tree-of-heaven being one of the preferred hosts. Spotted lanternflies are invasive and egg masses, juveniles, and adults can be found on trees, plants, bricks, stone, metal, and other smooth surfaces [6]. If allowed to spread in the United States, this pest could seriously impact the country’s grape, orchard, and logging industries.[7]
The spotted lanternfly causes serious damage including oozing sap, wilting, leaf curling and dieback in trees, vines, crops and many other types of plants. In addition to plant damage, when spotted lanternflies feed, they excrete a sugary substance, called honeydew, that encourages the growth of black sooty mold. This mold is harmless to people however it causes damage to plants. Spotted lanternflies will cover trees, swarm in the air, and their honeydew can coat decks and play equipment[7].

What do to when you encounter spotted lantern flies? The USDA and other states recommend killing them. If you see them in your nearby area, please report them using the state resources below:
[6] Spotted Lanternfly Alert. Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture. https://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Plants_Land_Water/PlantIndustry/Entomology/spotted_lanternfly/SpottedLanternflyAlert/Pages/default.aspx
[7] Spotted Lanternfly. Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. U.S. Department of Agriculture. https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/resources/pests-diseases/hungry-pests/the-threat/spotted-lanternfly/spotted-lanternfly


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