For the past few weeks, the buzz around the bucolic Carroll County community of Marston has been all about flies.
Ceilings blackened by swarms of flies. Flies crawling over screen doors, trying to get inside. Dead flies on floors. Live flies on food. Fly eggs laid in garbage, in damp corners and who knows where else. And about 20 households that have had it up to here.
The flies began showing up in early April, after poultry manure was spread over hayfields at a farm on Marston Road, a few miles outside New Windsor. The infestation began soon afterward at homes along Marston and Bowersox roads. Neighbors began comparing notes and trading stories. One couple found flies in a pot of water boiling for spaghetti. The fly plague prompted one family to cancel their daughter's graduation party. A woman gulped down a fly with a swallow of iced tea.
"I feel like I want to scrub my house from top to bottom," said Pam Fink, who lives on Marston Road. "It's disgusting."
Charles Zeleski, county director of environmental health, attributes the problem to several factors - a higher fly larvae content in poultry manure than in other types, warm weather that creates ideal breeding conditions for the flies and a farmer who didn't adequately till the manure into the soil.
"I'm sure if the farmer was aware of these things, he would have made some different decisions," Zeleski said.
The farmer assured the Health Department he wouldn't use poultry manure again, Zeleski said, but in the meantime, little can be done. Some flies will die, but with more around to reproduce, a greater number of flies than usual can be expected this summer and probably next summer, Zeleski said.
Residents are also at the mercy of nature. All of the more than 85,000 species of flies winter over, their development arrested until spring, when warm weather speeds up the insects' life cycle, allowing them to reproduce more quickly.
The life cycle of all fly species, varying in length from seven days to several weeks, follows the same pattern: Eggs are laid, maggots hatch, and, after a resting period, mature into adults. The adult flies feed, mate and begin the cycle again.
Bill Gimpel, chief of plant protection and weed management for the Maryland Department of Agriculture, said that while it's difficult to predict what Marston residents will face next year, the problems can be mitigated.
Flies prefer breeding in dark, cool, moist sites, Gimpel said, but any place that offers a food source will do, such as a kitchen with food spilled between countertop and refrigerator, or scraps on a cutting board. Removing these breeding grounds is a way to reduce the fly population.
Though the common house fly can carry diseases such as cholera and dysentery, Gimpel said the health threat posed by nonbiting flies is minimal.
"I think it's much more of a nuisance than a health risk," he said.
'We were overwhelmed'
That may be little consolation to fed-up Marston residents. Pam and Mike Fink, who run Little Friends Day Care, sat outdoors recently, supervising five children playing in their back yard. But a few weeks ago, the flies were so bad the Finks stayed in the basement with the children, and Mike Fink stood by his wife, waving flies away while she prepared lunches.
"There were just so many of them, we were overwhelmed," Mike Fink said.
Roger Lindsay of Bowersox Road was happy to find his home fly-free, at least for the time being.
"There's not one. I've checked the house meticulously," he said.
Lindsay said he is optimistic the problem has abated, but TrasieWroten, his next-door neighbor, wasn't as confident.
Wroten, the mother of three small children, said she is tired of cleaning counters with disinfectant wipes.
"I ran around this house for weeks with a fly swatter," she said. "That's all I did, all day long. I've got better things to do."
Still, she said, it could be worse. Two weeks ago, Wroten said she and her husband watched a television news story about a rat problem in the Washington area. Wroten's husband said he'd take rats over flies.
"I said, 'Uh-uh, no way,'" Wroten said. "That's all you need crawling around your children when they're sleeping."