TWAIN: The supremacy of the house-fly 

This is an undated photo of author Samuel Clemens, better known by his pen-name Mark Twain. (AP Photo)

There is one thing which fills me with wonder and reverence every time I think of It — and that is the confident and splendid fight for supremacy which the house-fly makes against the human being. Man, by his inventive ingenuity, has in the course of the ages, by help of diligence and determination, found ways to acquire and establish his mastery over every living creature under the vault of heaven — except the house-fly.  

With the house-fly he has always failed. The house-fly is as independent of him today as he was when Adam made his first grab for one and didn’t get him. The house-fly defies all man’s inventions for his subjugation or destruction. No creature was ever yet devised that could meet man on his own level and laugh at him and defy him ― except the house-fly. 

In ancient times man’s dominion over animated nature was not complete; but, detail by detail, as the ages have drifted by, his inventive genius has brought first one and then another of the unconquerables under his dominion: first the elephant and the tiger, and then the lion, the hippopotamus, the bear, the crocodile, the whale, and so on. One by one man’s superiors in fight have succumbed and hauled down the flag. Man is confessed master of them all, now. 

There isn’t one of them— there isn’t a single species— that can survive if man sets himself the task of exterminating it— the house-fly always excepted. 

Nature cannot construct a monster on so colossal a scale that man can’t find a way to exterminate it as soon as he is tired of its society. Nature cannot contrive a creature of the microscopicalest infinitesimality and hide it where man cannot find it— find it and kill it. Nature has tried reducing microbes to the last expression of littleness, in the hope of protecting and preserving by this trick a hundred deadly diseases which she holds in warmer affection than she holds any benefit which she has ever conferred upon man, but man has circumvented her and made her waste her time and her effort.  

It is a most disastrous condition. If all the troublesome and noxious creatures in the earth could be multiplied a hundred-fold, and the house-fly exterminated as compensation, man should be glad and grateful to sign the contract. We should be infinitely better off than we are now. One house-fly, all by itself, can cause us more distress and misery and exasperation than can any dozen of the other vexations which Nature has invented for the poisoning of our peace and the destruction of our comfort. All human ingenuities have been exhausted in the holy war against the fly, and yet the fly remains to-day just what he was in Adam’s time — independent, insolent, intrusive, and indestructible. 

Flypaper has accomplished nothing. The percentage of flies that get hitched to it is but one in the hundred, and the other ninety-nine assemble as at a circus and enjoy the performance. Slapping flies with a wet towel results in nothing valuable beyond the exercise. There are not two marksmen in fifty that can hit a fly with a wet towel at even a short range, and this method brings far more humiliation than satisfaction, because there is an expression about the missed fly which is so eloquent with derision that no operator with sensitive feelings can continue his labors after his self-respect is gone — a result which almost always follows his third or fourth miss. 

Poisonous powders have been invented for the destruction of noxious insects; they kill the others, but the fly prefers them to sugar. No method of actually exterminating the fly and getting your house thoroughly rid of him has ever been discovered. When our modern fashion of screening all the doors and windows was introduced, it was supposed that we were now done with the fly, and that we had defeated him at last, along with the mosquito. It was not so. Those other creatures have to stay outside nowadays, but the fly remains a member of the family just as before. 

The flea never associates with me — has never shown even a passing desire for my company, and so I have none but the friendliest feeling toward him. The mosquito troubles me but little, and I feel nothing but a mild dislike for him. Of all the animals that inhabit the earth, the air, and the waters, I hate only one — and that is the house-fly.