Stable Fly Classification Essay
common name: stable fly
scientific name: Stomoxys calcitrans (L.) (Insecta: Diptera: Muscidae)
Introduction - Synonymy - Distribution - Description - Life Cycle - Biology - Hosts - Economic Importance - Management - Selected References
Introduction (Back to Top)
Stomoxys calcitrans (L.), the stable fly (Figure 1), is a filth fly of worldwide medical and veterinary importance. Stable flies are obligate blood feeders, and primarily attack cattle and horses for a blood meal. In the absence of these animal hosts, they will bite people and dogs. Consequently, stable flies also have an economic impact on the Florida’s tourism industry. Filth flies, including stable flies, are synanthropic, meaning that they exploit habitats and food sources created by human activities such as farming. Stable fly is the most universally accepted common name but there are many others used to refer to this pest, including dog fly because of their preference for canine hosts, biting house fly because of their similarity in appearance to house flies, and power-mower fly after a paper by Ware (1966).
Figure 1. Stable fly, Stomoxys calcitrans (L.). Note the mouthparts projecting forward. Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida.
Synonymy (Back to Top)
According to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS 2002), the following junior synonyms have been used for Stomoxys calcitrans:
Conops calcitrans Linnaeus, 1758
Musca occidentalis Walker, 1853
Stomoxis dira Robineau-Desvoidy, 1830
Stomoxis inimica Robineau-Desvoidy, 1830
Stomoxys cybira Walker, 1849
Stomoxys parasita Fabricius, 1781
Distribution (Back to Top)
There are 18 known species in the genus Stomoxys. Of these 18 species Stomoxys calcitrans is the only species that is present worldwide and the only species that is synanthropic.
The stable fly is a globally recognized pest of livestock. In its normal agronomic environment, livestock facilities, the stable fly does not usually bother human beings. However, certain regions of the U.S. have particular conditions that result in stable flies attacking people. These regions include coastal New Jersey, the Lake Superior and Lake Michigan shorelines, Tennessee Valley Authority lakes, and along the Florida panhandle coast west to Louisiana. Within Florida, the area with the greatest problems with stable flies is west Florida. However, stable flies are numerous throughout the state.
Description (Back to Top)
Eggs: Eggs are small, approximately 1 mm in length, white, and sausage-shaped (Figure 2). They are smooth and curved on one side and straight with a longitudinal groove on the other side.
Figure 2. Stable fly, Stomoxys calcitrans (L.), eggs. Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida.
Larvae: Immatures are typical maggot-shaped (vermiform) fly larvae (Figure 3). A larva grows from the translucent first instar of about 1.25 mm to an 11-12 mm third instar larva that is pale yellow to creamy white with a mouthhook and two posterior spiracles.
Figure 3. Stable fly, Stomoxys calcitrans (L.), maggot (larva). Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida.
Pupae: The third instar larval skin hardens to form a puparium that is reddish-brown and capsule-like. The larva then forms a pupa inside the puparium (Figure 4). The puparium is 4.5-6 mm in length and wider at the head end.
Figure 4. Stable fly, Stomoxys calcitrans (L.), pupae. Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida.
Adults: Stable fly adults are similar to the house fly in size and coloration. The length of an adult stable fly is typically 5–7 mm. The two species can be differentiated by examination of the abdomens and the mouthparts. Adult stable flies have seven circular spots in a checkerboard pattern on their abdomens and house flies have an unpatterned abdomen (Figure 5). Stable flies have long, bayonet-like mouthparts for piercing skin and feeding on blood, whereas house flies have sponging mouthparts for feeding on liquids (Figure 1).
Figure 5. Stable fly, Stomoxys calcitrans (L.), adult abdomen, showing the characteristic spots. Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida.
Life Cycle (Back to Top)
Stable flies breed in moist, decaying organic matter. The adult female lives for four to six weeks in the laboratory but around seven to ten days in the field, and during this time she lays multiple clutches of eggs. Each clutch may contain 60-130 eggs, which are laid in small groups within a suitable substrate. Each female fly may lay up to 800 eggs in her lifetime, with each clutch requiring a separate blood meal. Eggs hatch in 12 to 24 hours into first instar larvae, which feed and mature through three instars in 12 to 13 days at the optimum breeding site temperature of 27°C. Third instar larvae transform to pupae within the puparia. The adults develop inside and then emerge from the puparia. The average stable fly life cycle in the field ranges from 12–20 days depending on the environmental conditions, but is usually around 28 days. Adults can fly within one hour post-emergence, and will be ready to mate three to five days later. Once mated, the female will start to lay eggs five to eight days post-emergence.
Biology (Back to Top)
Stable flies are unlike many other blood feeding fly species, in that both sexes feed on blood. In most other cases, the female feeds on blood to obtain protein for egg production and the male survives on sugar alone. Stable flies are diurnal, feeding on their hosts during the early morning and late afternoon in warm weather and in the middle of the day in cooler weather. When feeding, stable flies can fully engorge in five minutes if left undisturbed. After feeding and during hot periods of the day, they rest on the underside of vegetation, fences and other structures near their hosts. In Florida, the timing of peak stable fly abundance varies from year to year. Occasionally stable flies are active throughout the year or there are summer peaks, but most frequently peak populations occur in the spring.
Hosts (Back to Top)
In the U.S. stable flies feed mainly on large ungulates such as cattle and horses. However, they are known to feed on goats, sheep, swine, donkeys, cats, dogs and humans. On large animals, such as cattle and horses, the flies congregate on the legs, moving to other areas such as the belly and lower sides when populations are large (>25 flies per leg). On smaller animals, such as dogs, they feed around the ears due to the superficial blood vessels, and on the head and legs. Humans usually get bitten on the legs, behind the knees, and on the elbows.
Stable flies have great capacity for flight and can fly at speeds of 5 mph without wind. Studies have demonstrated their ability to disperse locally, particularly on farms or between farms, from their breeding sites to feeding sites and vice versa. A study of flies collected on equine facilities in Florida found that only 24.3% of the flies captured on horse farms had fed on horses; 64.6% had fed on cattle, 9.5% had fed on humans and 1.6% had fed on dogs. The flies that had fed on cattle had travelled between 0.8 and 1.5 km after feeding on cattle to the equine facility. In Florida, stable flies have been recorded moving up to 225 km away from their farm sites to coastal sites.
Economic Importance (Back to Top)
Stable flies attack people, pets, and agricultural animals throughout Florida to feed on their blood. Stable fly bites are extremely painful and the flies are very persistent; they often ignore swatting, stamping and other tactics used by animals trying to avoid bites.
Unlike many other blood feeding insect bites, on humans the bite site does not appear to get irritated and bites rarely results in allergic reactions. The tourist industry is severely affected by large numbers of stable flies, especially on Florida’s panhandle beaches. The flies are carried to the beach by northerly winds where they then bite visitors.
Stable flies feeding on the ears of dogs and big cats in zoos can be a severe problem. The flies feed relentlessly, especially when the animals are confined, and the ears become bloody open sores and are slow to heal leaving disfiguring scars.
The animal industries of the U.S., including Florida, are affected by the stable fly. Livestock are weakened from continual irritation due to blood feeding flies. As a result of stable fly annoyance, animals exhibit avoidance behaviors such as stamping feet and switching tails. Animals in severely affected areas have been known to enter water bodies and stand with only their necks and heads exposed to escape the biting flies. Consequently, the animals become stressed and spend less time feeding. Swine, cattle, and horses all show reduced weight gains due to intensive fly feeding. Recent research has estimated that stable flies cost the U.S. livestock industry $2.2 billion.
Stable flies feed on the blood of animals and are therefore potential vectors of blood-borne zoonotic diseases. Their ability to transmit the pathogens that cause diseases such as anthrax, equine infectious anemia (EIA), and anaplasmosis to animals has been documented. Stable fly bite wounds can also become secondarily infected by opportunistic pathogens.
Management (Back to Top)
Stable flies observed on their animal host are usually feeding, but they leave the host immediately after feeding is completed. Consequently, infestations in the early stages may not be noticed until the situation is well above the threshold where economic damage is inevitable. Monitoring is important for determining when management is necessary to prevent an outbreak situation. In the field, monitoring of stable fly numbers is done by counting flies on cattle (Figure 6). Counts should be done on both front legs of at least 15 animals. The threshold is 10 flies per animal. If stable fly numbers are greater than the threshold, then reductions in fitness that are considered economically damaging are likely to occur. Stable fly numbers greater than the threshold suggests the presence of a productive local developmental site. Counts on horses are not as reliable as horses are more sensitive to the bites than cattle and tend to disturb the flies more frequently. On horse farms sticky traps can be used for effective monitoring.
Figure 6. Stable flies, Stomoxys calcitrans (L.), feed mainly on the legs of cattle and horses. Counts of flies on front legs of cattle is a reliable monitoring tool. Photograph by Phillip Kaufman, University of Florida.
If monitoring reveals that the local stable fly population is greater than the threshold of 10 flies per animal then management of potential breeding sites should be implemented (Figure 7). The preferred habitat of stable flies is hay ring feeding sites, the residues of feeding hay in fields provides a highly productive breeding site. However, breeding may occur in any type of moist, decaying organic matter such as: silage, crop residue, hay, grain, manure and soiled animal bedding. To reduce fly breeding, spread crop residues and animal manures thinly so they dry quickly, clean up spilled food, and rotate hay feeding areas in fields. For animals housed in stalls, carefully choose bedding material and remove waste daily. Wood shavings are better than straw or hay because they do not decompose or become compacted as quickly once soiled. Decomposing bedding provides prime stable fly developmental habitat. Reducing decomposing organic matter around animal facilities also will reduce the presence of other localized fly problems for the health and safety of your animals, your neighbors’ animals, and the local community.
Figure 7. Rolled hay feeding sites are potential stable fly, Stomoxys calcitrans (L.), breeding sites (A). Close up of pupae in organic material (B). Photographs by Phillip Kaufman, University of Florida.
There may be instances where removal of breeding sites is not enough to control stable fly numbers below the threshold (ten flies per animal). In these situations, an integrated pest management approach should be adopted by selecting suitable tools from the biological, mechanical and chemical control options available. Biological control, in the form of commercially available parasitoid wasps can be used to target stable fly pupae and thus increase natural parasitism levels (Figure 8). Alternative control measures include the use of traps (e.g., Alsynite traps; Figure 9), insecticide treated targets, and insecticide treatment of stable fly resting sites or cattle. Insect repellents may also be used to provide some relief to humans and other animals. For example, natural repellents containing citronella are often used on horses.
Figure 8. The parasitoid wasp, Spalangia cameroni Perkins (Hymenoptera: Pteromalidae) that targets stable fly, Stomoxys calcitrans (L.), pupae, shown with a fly pupa. Photograph by Lyle Buss, University of Florida.
Figure 9. Alsynite traps for monitoring and control of stable flies, Stomoxys calcitrans (L.). Photograph by Phillip Kaufman, University of Florida.
Selected References (Back to Top)
- Broce AB. 1988. An improved Alsynite trap for stable flies Stomoxys calcitrans (Diptera: Muscidae). Journal of Medical Entomology 25: 406-409.
- Campbell JB, Skoda SR, Berkebile DR, Boxler DJ, Thomas GD, Adams DC, Davis R. 2001. Effects of stable flies (Diptera: Muscidae) on weight gains of grazing yearling cattle. Journal of Economic Entomology 94: 780-783.
- Catangui MA, Campbell JB, Thomas GD, Boxler DJ. 1995. Average daily gains of Brahman-crossbred and English x exotic feeder heifers during long-term exposure to stable flies (Diptera: Muscidae). Journal of Economic Entomology 88: 1349-1352.
- Catangui MA, Campbell JB, Thomas GD, Boxler DJ. 1997. Calculating economic injury levels for stable flies (Diptera: Muscidae) on feeder heifers. Journal of Economic Entomology 90: 6-10.
- Cilek JE. 2002. Attractiveness of beach ball decoys to adult Stomoxys calcitrans (Diptera: Muscidae). Journal of Medical Entomology 39: 127-129.
- Foil L, Hogsette JA. 1994. Biology and control of tabanids, stable flies and horn flies. Revue Scientifique et Technique de l’Office International des Epizooties 13: 1125-1158.
- Hogsette JA, Ruff JP. 1985. Stable fly (Diptera: Muscidae) migration in northwest Florida. Environmental Entomology 14: 170-175.
- Hogsette JA, Ruff JP, Jones CJ. 1989. Dispersal of stable flies (Diptera: Muscidae). Miscellaneous Publications of the Entomological Society of America 74: 23-32.
- Hogsette JA. 1990. Comparative attraction of four different fiberglass traps to various age and sex classes of stable fly (Diptera: Muscidae) adults. Journal of Economic Entomology 83: 883-886.
- Integrated Taxonomic Information System (IT IS). 2002. Stomoxys calcitrans TSN 150287. Integrated Taxonomic Information System on-line database, http://www.itis.gov. http://www.itis.gov/servlet/SingleRpt/SingleRpt?search_topic=TSN&search_value=150287 (22 September 2015).
- Jones CJ, Hogsette JA, Patterson RS, Milne DE, Propp GD, Milio JF, Rickard LG, Ruff JP. 1991. Origin of stable flies (Diptera: Muscidae) on west Florida beaches: Electrophoretic analysis of dispersal. Journal of Medical Entomology 28: 787-795.
- LaBrecque GC, Meifert DW, Weidhaas DE. 1972. Dynamics of house fly and stable fly populations. Florida Entomologist 55: 101-106.
- Machtinger ET, Geden CJ, Kaufman PE, House AM. 2015. Use of pupal parasitoids as biological control agents of filth flies on equine facilities. Journal of Integrated Pest Management. 6:16 DOI:10.1093/jipm/pmv015.
- Machtinger ET, Leppla NC, Hogsette JA. 2015. An assessment of the seasonal abundance and species composition of filth flies and their parasitoids on Florida equine farms to improve biological control. Neotropical Entomology. In press.
- Marcon PCRG, Thomas GD, Siegfried BD, Campbell JB. 1997. Susceptibility of stable flies (Diptera: Muscidae) from southeastern Nebraska beef cattle feedlots to selected insecticides and comparison of 3 bioassay techniques. Journal of Economic Entomology 90: 293-298.
- Moon RD. 2002. Muscoid flies (Muscidae), pp. 45-65. In GR Mullen and LA Durden (eds.), Medical and Veterinary Entomology, vol. 2. Elsevier, San Diego, CA.
- Pickens LG, Schmidtmann ET, Miller RW. 1994. How to control house and stable flies without using pesticides, pp. 1-14. USDA, Washington, DC.
- Pitzer JB, Kaufman PE, TenBroeck SH, Maruniak JE. 2011. Host blood meal identification by multiplex polymerase chain reaction for dispersal evidence of stable flies (Diptera: Muscidae) between livestock facilities. Journal of Medical Entomology 48: 53-60.
- Rochon K, Lysyk TJ, Selinger LB. 2004. Persistence of Escherichia coli in immature house fly and stable fly (Diptera: Muscidae) in relation to larval growth and survival. Journal of Medical Entomology 41: 1082-1089.
- Taylor DB, Moon RD, Mark DR. 2012. Economic impact of stable flies (Diptera: Muscidae) on dairy and beef cattle production. Journal of Medical Entomology 49: 198-209.
- Wright RE. 1985. Arthropod pests of beef cattle on pastures and range land, pp. 191-206. In RE Williams, RD Hall, AB Broce and PJ Scholl (eds.), Livestock Entomology. Wiley, New York.
Among the manifold conspiracies that gave shape to the recent history of this species, say the last 1500 years, among the plots without which social structures would collapse in on themselves as lead-roofed cathedrals in fires and bombings do, plots such as the denial of the utter effectiveness of augury, a denial so effective that they are called mad who stand beside the river and watch sooty pigeons drop one by one by two by one into the thick-banked silt of North Greenwich, the feather splay of their kamikaze spins so obviously spelling out the very day and time when the O2 Arena will fall into itself like a cathedral or a bird or a social structure, bringing down with it tens of thousands of Michael Bublé fans, amongst all these denials and lies and foreclosures, one stands out, one doubled-back thread to be picked from the nested scrap: the history of &, the ampersand, et per se and, the 27th letter, the rag-&-bone conjunction.
The conspiracy was brilliant in its simplicity and perseverance, maintained with rare continuity from antiquity through feudalism to capitalism with hardly stitch or halt: simply to insist, ever and always, that & (the ampersand) was identical to and (the word), that the ampersand was just a conjunction made logogram in haste, a ligature’s self-knotted noose. How wrong, how utterly wrong.
But it wasn’t the ampersand itself considered dangerous, though efforts at its weaponization had been ventured, most famously by Constantinople’s advanced military calligraphers, causing Sultan Mehmed the Second’s 8-week siege in hopes of securing the technology, which took the city but not its prize, as the calligraphers set saboteur’s fire to tens of thousands of scrolls as the walls were breached, and it’s told that for an entire month the sky said, in its flaming hand, nothing more than & & & & & & & &… and there were no birds in the sky, just birds & fire, fire & fall.
No, the problem wasn’t the sign itself but what it indicated:
Like all good conspiracies, its keepers established a double veil by offering up a more quickly discernible secret: the horror of all that, like the ampersand, is a sign bent grotesquely into the shape of its meaning, like breeds of dogs selectively bred to the point that their skulls are too small for their brains in order to becoming the seizure-ridden expression of the bitter, restless idiocy of a human species that dreams to remake the world in its caricatural image, one cerebrally disastrous King Charles Spaniel at a time.) But that was all to cover its tracks, to keep out of sight what the ampersand truly meant.an other method of joining, the location of the small reservoirs of hate and capacity buried within the built materials of this world, to be unlocked only in their joining: with each other, with themselves, only and ever on the condition of their sheer wretched bustedness.
That is why, written in its true hand, an ampersand can be written only in flies.
“[T]his world is a chaotic dump, above which floats, as a spirit above the waters, ‘The sense of meaninglessness’ … No matter where we are, garbage always follows us. … The theory of this world might be a theory of garbage and, as such, a discarded, heretical theory which denies fulfilment, asks not for purification and makes no demands for cleanliness that would insure survival.”
From Ash Oracles, by Jovica Acin.
Saturated with the specificity and devastation of the war and destruction of Jugoslavia, Acin’s words are also a post-canny irruption of scenery familiar since Benjamin, and indeed long before. A “piling [of] wreckage” before the feet of an anguished angel, “a pile of debris growing skyward.”
It’s old news that we live in a universe of rubbish. The fact that we scrabble psychically on an antihuman heap, a junkscape, is a truth and a trauma – and also the triumph of two ideologemes.
i) Conjoined melancholy and excitement.
The common libidinal investment in Mad-Max dreams of rubbish-heap heroism blunts the enormity of the literal physical survival of millions on the trash heaps of capitalism, without the benefit of leather accountrements, of crossbows, of punk haircuts, of post-apocalypse and-yet chic, who struggle against rejectamental death in the slurry of garbage neoliberalism, the empire of rubbish, those poisoned on Nigeria’s Coco Beach, in Haiti by the Khian Sea, on the middens of Tonga.
ii) The tides of trash in which those of us fortunate enough not literally and bodily to struggle, but which, rather, stink up our heads in tugging dream-form, are an evasion.
There’s seventy times as much industrial as consumer waste: that it’s chocolate bar wrappers and broken lightbulbs that we envisage eating the world, rather than the opaque and incomprehensible sludge, the glimmering runoff, the contingent sculptures of refuse pig-iron and recusant minerals, is exoneration of capital. Makes the dump our misdemeanour, to be defeated with civic responsibility.
But even knowing that, we don’t pick our landscape.
Salvagepunk, a heuristic the birth and, repeatedly, end of which we’ve declared before, isn’t, of course, an answer to anything. It is an effortful effort to think a way in the scree of garbage.
This is at least the third death of Salvagepunk, and with it we notice that we’re not alone. We investigate with new attention the non-human scavengers with which we share our garbage world.
Amongst the various things of importance Aristotle wrote, one was this: “it makes no difference whether it is five beds that exchange for a house, or for the equivalence of 5 beds.” Roughly two millennia later, Karl Marx will find this important enough to cite in the first chapter of the first volume of Das Kapital, where it appears as two equations: “5 beds = 1 house is not to be distinguished from 5 beds = so much money.”
It’s there in Das Kapital to point out both the proximity and distance between an older way of thinking equivalence and a newer mode that came to shape our entire social order, its hours, families, flywheels, furnaces, wasteheaps. The proximity lies in that equals sign, but not the one between 1 house and 5 beds or 5 beds and so much money. It’s the one between those two equations, that insists we not distinguish between the equivalence of two quantities of different objects and the equivalence of a quantity of objects and its worth in money. Because of this collapse of two kinds of the commensurable, Marx saw how close Aristotle was to thinking the form of value that makes capitalism tick. And yet how far too, that distance because he couldn’t nail the substance of it: not money as a common referent as Aristotle will have it, or as a medium that greases the uncomfortable frictions of unlike things, but time and labor, specifically their becoming-indistinguishable in a mutual abstraction: abstract labor time. Of course, Aristotle couldn’t think this, for the simple reason that it hadn’t yet become the case. It made sense for Aristotle to say that, “It is, in reality, impossible that such unlike things can be commensurable” because that commensurable wasn’t yet what it is now: a reality.
An and – not an ampersand – works at the center of this, this precursor of the value form. Because along with the contagious is worrying away at what Aristotle calls “the impossibility that such unlike things can be commensurable,” there is the and of equivalence, putting not just 5 beds and 1 house together but also 5 beds and what is not different from 5 beds, and above all, those two different forms of equivalence themselves as “not to be distinguished.” This is an and that neither conjoins things in their qualities nor marks them as different. It drives a separation within things (a bed and a bed as its abstract equivalent) and obliterates the differences between. So begins the paratactic grammar of capital: 1 house and 5 beds and 5 beds and 1200 dollars and 29.7 sheep and 1/52,000th of a tranched mortgage and…
And one morning we looked out over the port and realized our lives were nothing like that sky over Constantinople.
Alfred Sohn-Rethel, in his bravado attempt to link basic categories of thought to exchange itself, gives this obliteration a point of feverish vertigo: in that slimmest of moments, when, in order to be exchanged between two parties, a commodity – let’s say a bed or hours of your life or a horse or a painting – must suddenly belong to no one, not even to itself. It must become just pure exchange, without the thingness of house or horse, without even the qualification of being some one’s property, just the possibility of being equivalent in general. As for all those clinging determinations, like the particular arrangement of skin worn through on the flank of that horse or that place on the bed in the house where the sweats of your fever dried into a salt version of you, a leaked ghost to be inherited by those who bought the mattress from us for $50 as we kept our fingers crossed hoping they wouldn’t notice the second you who never rose from its sleep, or the daily destruction of the sinews in her wrist because hours is strain and repetition is fact, and all this is burnt free, the particular’s stain voided like ash.
We enact this process, on average, between 8 to 14 times every day. And even the rubbish wind isn’t nearly strong enough to huff away that gathered strata of resultant chaff, AKA the present.
Leonid Sejka knows the world is an endless junkyard.
At its centre lurks the limit of his artist’s brush, an unpaintable, unthinkable mechanised zero point, a garbage grinder devouring all forms in the labyrinth.
The truth is more awful and more banal. There are machine in the junk yard – more than one – but they don’t destroy, they birth garbage. The world is the grounds between engines spinning trash from matter. What then later reconfigures that rubbish into fecund paste isn’t machine but animal. Like Cairene pigs, abjured porcine uncanny.
Humans are anti-rubbish. This isn’t a value judgement, not an aspiration nor a Promethean swagger. It’s a fact spoken with a shrug, a side effect of anthropocentrism, and a due respect to rubbish itself. Humans are wholly unconvincing as garbage.
“You never knew what you would find in that rubbish dump.” Dambudzo Marechera on life as a black child in the discards of empire, in white supremacist Rhodesia. “Broken toys. Half-eaten sandwiches. Comics, magazines, books. One brilliant blue morning I found what I thought was a rather large doll but on touching it discovered it was a half-caste baby, dead, rotting.” This isn’t evidence of the rejectamentalism of the human but, in the shock the find occasions, of its opposite. Even a corpse is never rubbish: it is always the dead. A cold, quiet human agent. “I fled as fast as I could,” Marechera says of the heap, “back to the safety and razorfights of the ghetto.”
The child and the corpse are gathered. And opposite them, at the antipode of the human alive or dead, trash itself walks, all across culture, enmonstered.
This is the telos of rubbish, a chest-hollowing weird trash sublime. But these monsters are no more Garbage Virgils to our Trash-Inferno-trapped Dantes than the dead can be. The dead are not of the rubbish, so can’t guide us either in it or to its heart. The monsters, by contrast, are the rubbish itself. “Nothing could be understood from this jumble of misshapen forms,” says Muriel Grey of her rubbish monster in The Ancient, “while all around him, the rest of the world was explaining itself.” All these patchwork refuse horrors’ agendas awe, but are opaque.
The human; the monster. Neither helps. We need recourse to a mediating animal point between. Mindful that it’s less than they deserve, all we can do is petition, implore, entreat the beasts to do as we’ve had them do in all our endless banalising stories: to pretend to totemhood, to walk with us. We need an animal copula, a conjunction to attach us-ness to the rubbishness in which we’re lost.
The pig is the maw, event horizon, Schwarzchild radius, too voracious to conceptually accompany, too easily parodic, too unsettlingly us-like to trust. The junkyard dog too freed by ferality. The pigeon too dumb. The cockroach too encoded as abject for us to follow.
The worm, that garbage grinder that Mary Butts calls “a red tube for the excretion of earth,” is a candidate, and as an agent of decay it might seem perfect in an excremental world. Consider this from Nathaniel Cobb, in the Yearbook of the US Department of Agriculture, 1914:
If all matter in the universe except the nematodes were swept away our world would still be dimly recognizable, and if, as disembodied spirits, we could then investigate it, we should find its mountains, hills, vales, rivers, lakes and oceans represented by a thin film of nematodes.
The problem, though, is that the honorable philosophy of Vermiformalism is, like the rot that is its grundnorm, both post- and pre-garbage. It is totalised mulch, rather than, as rubbish is, collective, inhumanly democratic.
Not the worm, then. We need another beast vector of trash philosophy. One looping, urgent, iridescent and vile, both beautiful and ugly, irreducible to and inextricable from rubbish qua rubbish. Dead-again salvagepunks pick our way not out of but endlessly through the trash following the fly.
But materials persist longer than the span in which they can be made the nothing of exchange.
Of course, that and always hangs around, threatening to insert a slick of oil alongside a headstone or an algorithm, through measure in something that speaks in quantity and death but which is not combustion or cemetery or commerce as such.Like a body’s salt, the ampersand casts a shadow from within out. Sohn-Rethel hints at this too, of going to the butcher with a dog, whose understanding “… includes a keen sense of property which will make him snap at a stranger’s hand daring to come near the meat his master has obtained and which he will be allowed to carry home in his mouth. But when you have to tell him ‘Wait, doggy, I haven’t paid yet!’ his understanding is at an end.
Relevant lesson: you should never bite the hand that feeds you. Hands can be bandaged, replaced. Aim more toward the heart of the matter.The pieces of metal or paper which he watches you hand over, and which carry your scent, he knows, of course.”
Sure, doggy doesn’t understand abstract equivalence, even if patience has been bred and beaten into him. But at the end of that understanding is a material memory, carried in the triangulating link of property that spans between coinage & meat but can’t erase the thick specificity of these coins, that meat. That memory hides itself in the daylight of our transactions, the scent picked up dogs who “don’t get it.”
The bonds between meat & coin, which must be written with ampersand, can only be seen when the value between the two breaks down, becomes unmistakeable in its stasis. Like in Vienna, in the period of early 20’s hyperinflation when useless Deutchmarks were burnt for petty heat or used to paper pretty the walls, and Anna Eisenmerger, whose banker told her “My dear lady, where is the State which guaranteed these securities to you? It is dead,” watched as, “Mounted policemen were torn from their horses, which were slaughtered in the Ringstrasse and the warm bleeding flesh dragged away by the crowd…” The palace of culture is built with dog shit, Brecht said, but as for what is built with horse meat and heated with the fires of Deutchmarks, we simply cannot say.
Or nine decades later, a year a half ago in Essex, where a woman was arrested for “stealing” spoiling food, including meat, thrown out by Tesco after a power outage. Tesco claimed that the contents of the bin still belonged to them despite it being discarded and rotting, and therefore that bonds of property exceed the collapsing protein weave of sarcomere as the flies get down to business. And Tesco also proudly state that in their commitment to sustainability, they send thousands of pounds of leftover meat to be burned for electricity every year. I can’t help but think that if they only ever burned the meat from the start, using it to power the refrigeration to keep fresh the fuel that will not be wasted on human hunger, things would be simpler. But no, there’s still the and that weighs, evaluates: flesh in the rubbish bin and flesh in the incinerator and flesh in the package, bathed in electric light, and flesh in the belly and flesh in the jail and flesh in the street, torn from and along with its horses, their steam rising up like gutted recollections.
But three years ago, in Egypt, the outbreak of swine flu in Mexico led to the fear that Egyptian pigs could become sick. As throughout porcine history, this doesn’t mean calling a pig doctor. It means culling: the immediate slaughter of all 300,000 plus pigs in the country. Amongst those massacred and uneaten were the pigs of Manshiyat naser, the “Garbage city” on the outskirts of Cairo, tended by the Zabbaleen, the Coptic Christian garbage collectors the city can’t run without. The destruction of the pigs destroyed the livelihoods of thousands of Zabbaleen and their families. In anger, one of them said, “Let Cairo drown in garbage.” And it did, & the flies came & so too the smell that ensued, AKA memory.
Insect-fouled narration. A flecking of salvagepunk.
Touch connects. With an exchange of atoms we’re attached to something by something. The light but unendurably annoying repetitive haptic bother of a fly’s feet is a linking, let alone the vomit-glue of that grotesque pad tongue touching down on us, and off again, on us and off again, repeatedly, one stop en route to the garbage.
To eat the garbage and puke it up, to puke bits of us on the garbage and suck it up again, to puke it back down on us in a noisome gloop in which we are conjoined with the trash in which we live.
Like Beelzebub-led angels on their way down, flies blunder into trouble but can still fly. They don’t, or even worse, do, watch where they’re going. In turd footprints, drool and their own spoor, they trail a braille of shit. A resistant and tantalising code.
The fear is that it says they’ve already made it to the bottom. That Hell has a long been a hole for landfill, that we walk on striae of discards deep within the pit. That there’s nowhere else to go, not even anywhere worse.
Now, “This is Hell” is an antique reveal. That it’s cold and packed full of our crap is a slightly newer insinuation, a sutured despair-cum-hope-cum-despair-cum-hope-, and so, fly-foot, on.
That fury we feel at the repeated interventions of any fly is massively disproportionate to the lightness of its touch. What drives it is anxiety. We feel ourselves the objects of attention. We’re noticed by the universe, via order Diptera.
Three lifecycle ways in which fly can guide in the rubbish heap.
i) Through the words it writes as neonates, on rust, on some fender, on flat rubbish, on the trash-strewn ground of the dump. It can write them in the ooze of its maggot bodies.
ii) In relentless veering in its majority, in a swarm, a cloud not of unknowing but of insect knowing. Fervent smoke.
iii) Scattered breadcrumb-style in death, laying a path in its little raisin bodies, from point to rubbish point.
We’re not obliged to do anything about any of this: it just is. No one said this revelation was invigorating, or that fly was a salubrious animal companion. “What’s that, Buzzy? Timmy’s fallen into Hell?”
The Dipteric is no dialectic. It’s not a sublation; it’s a shitpad joining of incommensurables at the end of fly’s legs.
Against this scandal, there are two obvious defences. One is the strategy of Renfield, Dracula’s fly-eating slave:
My homicidal maniac is of a peculiar kind. I shall have to invent a new classification for him, and call him a zoophagous (life-eating) maniac. What he desires is to absorb as many lives as he can, and he has laid himself out to achieve it in a cumulative way. He gave many flies to one spider and many spiders to one bird, and then wanted a cat to eat the many birds. What would have been his later steps?”
Like the protagonist of Alain Mabanckou’s African Psycho, an inadequate serial killer hemmed in by junk, Renfield is a pitiful wannabee monstrosity. His mania is a function of the world, not of Nosferatu.
Renfield has a fool’s Capitalism envy, tries to imitate its voracity with cringe-making misprisions. He thinks the accumulation ends in digestion, a hoarding in the body! That it is, if in predatory fashion, about sustenance, rather than a drably murderous monetised dynamic of itself.
And all the animals he hopes to ingest are multiples of smaller animals he has fed them, down to, and ending at, the fly. Fly, in his idiot belly, is the indivisible atom of animal, limit point.
But no stomach acid can dissolve the Dipteric. It mediates organic and rejectamental. This doomed madman strategy is to try to reduce the fly to the merely former.
The bureaucrat, the asylum’s director, tries the opposite tack. To make-garbage the fly.
This, supposedly, is the purpose of flypaper.
To snare the fly, kill it, to throw it away as rubbish.
But this is no more convincing than Renfield. Flypaper is a commodity far too unlikely, too lunaticly engineered, too baroque and rococoly symbolically freighted to have been thrown up by the exigencies of commodification, for all its demented invention.
A tightly wound spool of paper coated in sweet viscous poison, uncoiled like a streamer at a fetid antiwedding, trembling with hungry struggling flies, their terrible whispering feet silenced, anchored in glue, there to die and loll and rustle with breezes, macabre chitinous decor. A display of corpses in spiral vortex, a strip of wallpaper without a wall, turning like an insectile drill.
There is no fucking way flypaper was not designed by a semiotician.
And by one who, whatever the brief, knew that flies could never not be vectors. Throw that long heavy ribbon out, all specked with fly dead, it will land on the trashheap in the shape it’s eager to take, overlooping and sticking to itself, coiled over its own length. Insect typography. Compulsively conjoining. Salvaging a punk meaning for itself from its animal garbage self.
A fly ampersand.
[image by Armando Veve]
The story of those pigs in Cairo is a story in the uneven history of salvage, in its underside, which we call salvagepunk. We add that suffix because salvage alone, born of and in the panic of value, of weighing the saving of worth before or during or after a catastrophe, is torn between and and ampersand.
In the 17th century, salvage meant a payment: the remuneration given to sailors for saving another ship from going down, the equivalent to the cost of a portion of the cargo that would have sank. This is the same period when, in the Mediterranean world, it became newly possible to continue shipping in the dangerous waters of winter. But not primarily because of new boats. Because of insurance, which drives a separation within disasters themselves, between profit lost and commodities – such as human labor – lost, such that it becomes profitable to ship unabated in full knowledge that ships will be saved only on the books, while their hulls gape like grottoes under the chop.
In the 19th century, salvage meant a saving, rescuing property before it was lost, with the “salvage corps” of firefighters in Glasgow, London, and Liverpool, extra-municipal organizations that ensured buildings to be insured were up to snuff and which, provided you could pay, would snuff out the fires or root around through the charred remains for something to be dusted off and sold again.
In the 20th century, salvage meant the recuperation of what was already lost, combing the fields of wreckage. Fittingly, it’s the first World War, that apogee of waste that provided capital with the ground clearing it needed, that enacted the shift: the British Salvage Corps, who picked through the dead, took their shirts off their backs, made them into gas masks, so that the living did not breathe in their death but the death of another gone not wholly to waste.
In the Cross of Carl, Walter Owen will extend this to the salvage of corpses themselves, but as other writers of war like Jones and Grossman and Malaparte knew, the flies gathered around fact and gore spell something that hardly needs embellishment or extension.
In the 21st century, the history of salvage’s meaning curls back on itself as if ampersand, the split becomes absolute: on one side, hands pour acid over motherboards to strip out their last heavy metals, hands put acetylene fire to the tremendous hulls of decommissioned tankers. On the other, central banks dream that bailing out a sinking financial ship by flooding it with liquidity will garner the biggest salvage payment of all: the continued pseudo-health of capital.
The two are bridged by an ultimate denial of history: the fantasy of sustainability, of salvage without the disaster, in which consumption and preservation stand magically hand-in-hand, peering like the blind into the smog.
And she is going as fast as she can but the rope around her waist frays and snaps, and her ruined trousers head abruptly south so she is shuffling from tor to rubbish tor hopping and holding up her own clothes and she looks nothing like a free-runner. She trips and comes down hard on her right thigh on the corner edge of what was once a dishwasher or a small fridge, protruding from the rubble of grey refuse like robot bones. She rolls. She slides painfully down the hillocks of trash, clamping her hands to her mouth to stop from shouting, hunted as she is by mutants (insofar as they can run through their own cancerous pains); or blank-masked enforcers from some presumed authority somewhere (though she has eavesdropped on them sobbing at night into dead radios, smelt their uniforms and seen their patchwork repairs); or marauders running as fast as they can (not fast) over the garbage dunes, holding reclaimed steering wheels in front of them and blowing Vruuumm Vrummm! noises as they come. In any case someone is coming after her.
She comes to a rest in shadow. Above her is an overhang of chickenwire and tins. She freezes. Above her is a terrible shape, a jagged many-limbed thing, a tree tangled from the composites of aerials and tv innards, plastic extrusions like growths in its multipart trunk, thorns of glass and shattered plates. Its branches splay – finger after finger of tubing, and intricate wicked ribbing. Dangling from them like dirty dank foliage, like the skins of victims, are dish clothes, and umbrellas’ countless ripped canopies. Nylon in dinged colours.
She cannot believe it. This is the place for which she’s been looking, of which everyone in the dump whispers. The parentload of violence, growing on weapons, or budding them, its roots reversing peristalsis.
She begins to dig. She does not hesitate, despite the dangers of which she’s been told. She excavates with a flange of wood, with a broken saucepan, with her hands. She digs through layers of rubbish. She digs archaeology. She goes down much faster than she should be able to, through centuries of rubbish. Discoloured and granular, but plastic, resistant to true rot. Specific. Resilient. She is soon in a hole in the rubbish, that rubbish in a much much bigger hole.
She is digging for a weapon, and she finds it. Puts her hand at very last in the growing dark on a still-dense cardboard tube and halloos and hauls and up from the earth flexes a long stinking insecty strand. She twirls it around her head. She snaps it, whoops and waves, dislodging a few flecks of adhesive but not one of the tiny bodies.
She turns to face whatever is coming, brings her fly-whip down.
Salvagepunk has been around for a while, even if it didn’t get its name until about 3 years ago. It is the other side of salvage, the ampersand side, when the properties of things become a sabotage of their purpose, unbound from their identity as if by flies, bound together with other broken things, as if by flies.
Et per se and. Which means: And in itself and. The in itself of something becomes hooked, the conjunctive barbs on each side. Kurt Schwitters thinks it precisely with the word: Merz, which is kommerz, commerce, from which the with has been severed. Deep within enemy territory, commerce is ruined and, as Schwitters says, one learns to scream with household refuse.
The operation of salvagepunk starts when the being wasted of materials is the occasion for them to become war on what brought them to be, in favor of those who use them, against those who owned them. The form of it is that of the barricade#: the use of the city against the city in the name of the city. The use of the materials of the city, against the designated function and flow of the city, in the name of what the city has already been beyond that function.
The ampersand therefore does not mean and. That has been the tremendous lie. It means and/or: the conjunction that joins what should be mutually exclusive, the incommensurate, not flattened into value, but undone into jagged proximity.
We tore the locks from the building and wound through them the copper wire borrowed like veins from the walls. To these we added the doors, for which there was no longer much need. To this we added what remained of the building. Then we got to work.
I could speak this again in rust and hotwiring, in bicycles made of bombs or vice versa, I could speak of The Bed Sitting Room or Hyesoon or Schulz or Hrabal or Mad Max or Berg, but I won’t because two years ago I wrote to you, I was in a terrible cafe in a terrible town in California & I wrote to you to say listen, there are two separate things, in Greece, there’s a town called Keratea in southeastern Attica, it has 16,000 people, it is 40 km from Athens & they tried to build a landfill there to swallow all the trash from the city & the people there refused it & on the road that skips the town but links the capitol to the dump next to the town the people of Keratea burned the construction vehicles & set up road blocks & dug a grave-deep trench like it was a war because it was & at night they shone lasers into the eyes of the cops & firebombed their houses because it was war & one man said at age 60 I finally learn how to make Molotovs & on the walls there were children’s drawings of riots, it was of these I wrote to you, these drawings we could not find online but beside me in the cafe was the other thing, two terrible people who were chatting, all yoga pants and popped collar & I noticed the color of nail polish & this neon glare must have been one of the colors in those drawings, a stray crayon or laser or shard flung far west & I wrote you to say how is it that the same color is both & to say that maybe it is in writing that we affix the glue to which trash sticks like glitter, but we both know that’s only when that glue is heated by the steam that rises from all the bodies together & many dumpsters dragged into the streets & set ablaze like trash in Naples where a young Sohn-Rethel wrote “that which is intact, that which just works, arouses misgivings and doubts, because the fact that it just works means that it can never be known how and for what it will work” & one morning outside the EU convention there was a horse left by the people of Keratea & it looked like total crap, cobbled together with scrappy wood and chunks of highway, and an idiot’s grin and a sign around the neck that said SORRY & the politicians having heard what happened in Troy thought themselves so clever & dragged it inside their gates & took axes to it to kill the invaders & they hacked & blood flowed & they hacked and realized there was no one inside, just blood & blood & they took it to pieces & that night their bodies, coated with blood, stiffened like driftwood in their beds until they like horses & cathedrals could not move & having written you this I stepped outside in that dismal town & looking up I saw the sky was so full of flies that you could not start and/or put out a fire