Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

What’s the deal with all the flies at Valley Grove? April 27, 2018


The historic Valley Grove Churches, rural Nerstrand, Minnesota.


ALL YOU SCIENTIST, ENTOMOLOGY, biology types out there, I need your input to solve a mystery. I suppose I could google the topic, but I’d rather read your theories or fact-based conclusions.


The buzzing started once we stepped inside the front gate and onto the grass between the two churches.


Last Sunday afternoon while walking on the grounds of Valley Grove Church, rural Nerstrand, I heard a buzzing. Like a zillion bees. At first I thought I was hearing things because, when I would stop, the droning also stopped.

I questioned whether I could be suffering from tinnitus, an occasional issue given my hearing loss. I’m nearly deaf in the my right ear which causes all sorts of problems in determining sound sources and in hearing in general.



But this buzzing seemed real. I risked asking my husband if he heard what I heard. He did. We paused on the dormant dried grass. No buzzing. Then we took a few steps and the irritating hum resumed. Then my observant husband, with the way better vision than me, saw the flies. Everywhere. Infinite numbers settled on the grass as if sunning themselves. I strained to see the camouflaged flies and then photograph them. I managed one image of a single fly. Whenever either of us moved, they, too, moved. It was the craziest thing.


One of several birdhouses located on the grassland hiking area.


I’m a woman who has a history with flies. They were part of my growing up environment on a southwestern Minnesota dairy farm. A fly swatter was always at the ready. Sticky fly traps dangled from ceilings in our farmhouse; one even hung over the kitchen table. Not at all appealing. But I’d rather see a dead fly than have one land on my dinner plate. In the barn, biting, swarming flies were a constant problem. For cows. And for humans.


This aged, massive oak is a focal point in the corner of the cemetery.


But why were these thousands (maybe even millions) of flies here, on these church and cemetery grounds on a sunny late April afternoon, the first warm weekend of the season in Minnesota? There were no cattle (although the occasional piles of deer and other animal poop). There was no food.



The insects didn’t swarm the entire grounds—mostly just the area between the two historic church buildings and along the edge of the adjoining cemetery.



Once I got past the fly territory, I enjoyed my time at Valley Grove. It’s a beautiful place of quiet, of peace, set high atop a hill with lovely rural vistas. There are hiking trails and history in the cemetery (and churches when they are open). Generations of families are buried here. And there are oak trees, including one held together by thick chains in the corner of the cemetery.

This place holds stories. And now it holds one more story—the mystery of the fly invasion.


© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Who are these marauding invaders anyway? July 12, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 7:21 AM
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OK ALL OF YOU nature-loving entomologist types out there. I need your help.

A swarm of larvae has descended upon my potted fuchsia and I would like to identify these invaders.

At first I thought the caterpillar rather cute as I observed an ant scoot across its back and back. Note the singular word “caterpillar.”

An ant about to embark on a journey across the back of this unidentified larva on my fuchsia.

The larva squirms, reacting to the ticklish feet of the ant and that amuses me.

That was day one.

ON DAY TWO, the singular became plural as I counted some 25 larvae feasting on my fuchsia. Did the scout report back, “Hey, this way, over here, look what I found!” followed by “Forward, march!”  from the commander? The powerful army had stripped away the leaves, decimating the unguarded plant.

The larvae stripped the leaves from one fuchsia and were working on the second plant in an adjacent pot.

Munch, munch, munch. The fuchsia leaves quickly disappear.

Then I stood by as a caterpillar consumed an entire leaf, just like that. Now you see it, now you don’t.

They were entertaining, but certainly no longer cute.

I am determined to determine what type of infestation I have in the pots on my driveway. I consulted a master gardener who works at the library and sent me home with Butterflies and Moths, a Golden Guide, published by St. Martin’s Press. She thinks I may be dealing with White-lined Sphinx larvae. Maybe.

But I am confused because these creatures differ in appearance. Are some male, the others female? Does their maturity or size—some are skinny and others are, well, chubby—change their look?

See how this larva differs in appearance from the one in the image above?

Just a different shot of the same larva. FYI, I'm told the pointed "horn" is the tail. Right or not?

Online research confuses me even more.

So, if you are in the know, please give me your two or three or five cents worth. Heck, I’ll even take a dollar’s worth of knowledge.

And, as long as you’re answering my questions, I would like to know why these creepy crawlies prefer fuchsia to the untouched Diamond Frost, non-stop begonia, Wandering Jew and impatiens planted in the same two pots.

From my female perspective, I’m pondering, “Could fuchsia be the equivalent of chocolate to these larvae?”

© Copyright 2010 Audrey Kletscher Helbling