Dear Car Talk: My 30-year career as an agricultural biologist would have been a lot shorter if I had not spent so much time correcting the public's insect misidentifications. Your reader, David, who had trouble with fruit flies in his truck should first get an honest-to-goodness ID on the insect. My guess is that David has fungus flies, drain flies, gnats or another common feeder of general decaying material. Therefore, they could be living in the carpet of a leaky trunk or roof lining, mildewing air conditioner vent, the leaves packed in the doorjamb, etc. Hope this is helpful. Thanks for all the great advice and laughs over the years! — Ann


Very helpful, Ann.


My late brother Tom used to quote Charles Kettering, who was once the head of research at GM. Kettering often said, "You guys are going to sell THIS?" Actually, Kettering famously said, "A problem well-defined is a problem half-solved." Which is pretty smart. And true.


And you would think that someone like me, who has spent most of his adult life asking people if it's "more of a thunk, a clunk or a clank," would have stopped to question the reader's insect diagnosis. The question is, How does the average person find an agricultural biologist to make a positive identification of a fruit fly? Do you just watch "CSI: Kitchen Garbage Can," and hope they repeat the fruit fly episode?


Actually, some counties have agricultural commissioners or cooperative extension services. Start there, if you have one. If not, your state might have entomologists if they have mosquito abatement programs or other invasive insect related programs. Or try a nearby college and see if you can get some help. In my experience, professors often love a chance to actually be useful once in a while. As long as you don't ask them too often.


The easiest way to do all this is with a photograph, if you can get one. If you capture a few of the invaders in any kind of container and just leave it sealed for a few days, you will then have a ... um ... non-moving example of the species that you can photograph. Trying emailing that to your local agricultural experts (or a far-away expert, since it's email anyway), and ask for help identifying the species and suggestions on how to get rid of it. Tell them Ann sent you.


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