Category Archives: flies

Encounter with a disgusting bloodsucker

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Haematopota pluvialis

The female common horsefly, writes Dalrymple, is

a bloodsucker, usually of horses and cows but sometimes of men. Her bite is very unpleasant and she injects an anticoagulant into her mammalian victim, sucking up the spilled blood immediately afterwards in a most disgusting way.

In the bedroom, Dalrymple is reading Chekhov with his wife asleep beside him. One of the creatures flies in. Dalrymple is fascinated and horrified.

I observed the fly closely. From a certain point of view it was admirable. Large as flies go, its tapered abdomen was extremely neat, dark with whitish stripes. Its head, which it swivelled from side to side as if taking in the world around it preparatory to an attack, was mainly composed of large compound eyes. It (or perhaps I should say she) also had nasty-looking biting equipment on its head.

Dalrymple acts.

I found an insecticide spray and directed it at the horsefly.

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The Hobsbawm of the RSPCA

John Bryant with the RSPCA's highest honour, the Queen Victoria Gold Medal for 'long and meritorious service in the cause of animal welfare'

John Bryant with the RSPCA’s highest honour, the Queen Victoria Gold Medal for ‘long and meritorious service in the cause of animal welfare’. Eric Hobsbawm got the Companion of Honour

Dalrymple reports that John Bryant, one of the candidates for the governing council of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, believes

the keeping of pets of any description is a contravention of animals’ rights, among which is that to freedom.

Bryant believes in

the right of every single fish to live out its life as nature intended.

All fish, Bryant believes, should be released into open waters forthwith. The fact, writes Dalrymple,

that most of the fish would not survive more than a few minutes would count for nothing. Freedom is freedom and not another thing. Did not Benjamin Franklin warn us that he who sacrificed his freedom for security would end up with neither? Why should it be any different for goldfish?

Bryant believes all dogs should be freed

from their leather nooses and chains.

All dogs

should be released from their leashes, collars, kennels, and baskets. Bryant compares their state to that of domestic slavery.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 22.50.03Bryant

does not want dogs to be released into the exterior wherever they are. The condition of ownerless dogs in Africa and Asia is not encouraging, famished, flea-bitten, battle-scarred and plagued by sores as they are.


they should be allowed to die out by not being able to reproduce. Within 15 years they would cease to exist and would thus be released from their terrible servitude.

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 22.57.34Bryant is considered one of the more moderate candidates for the RSPCA’s governing council. Another candidate, the vegan Peta Watson-Smith, has likened the hardships experienced by farm animals to that of Jews in the Nazi Holocaust, while Dan Lyons and Angela Roberts, founders of the Centre for Animals and Social Justice think-tank, which been undertaking research into

democratic theory and practice in relation to the representation of animals’ interests,

believe that

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 22.59.59animals should be represented in Parliament by members dedicated to their interests and rights alone.

An admirable suggestion, though Dalrymple points to a potential snag:

The interests of owls and mice, rabbits and stoats, spiders and flies occasionally conflict.

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Petite touche philosophico-entomologique

Screen Shot 2015-01-01 at 13.32.04Equality before God, equality before the maggot

Dalrymple draws attention to this passage from Jean-Henri Fabre (at the end of Chapter 16, Book 10, Souvenirs entomologiques):

À la surface du sol, en plein air, oui, l’affreuse invasion est possible; elle est même la règle absolue. Dans la remise en fusion de la matière pour d’autres ouvrages, cadavre pour cadavre l’homme ne vaut pas mieux que la dernière des brutes. Alors le diptère use de ses droits; il nous traite comme il le fait à l’égard d’une vulgaire loque animale. Dans ses ateliers de rénovation, la Nature est pour nous d’une superbe indifférence; au fond de ses creusets, bêtes et gens, gueux et monarques sont absolument même chose. Voilà vraiment l’égalité, la seule de ce monde, l’égalité devant l’asticot.

Shakespeare agreed, says Dalrymple. Maggots and flies teach Man ‘a lesson in existential or transcendental equality’.

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