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Wildlife rehabilitators do not like hippoboscids, otherwise known as flat flies. Here is a story to illustrate my point.
One afternoon I was struggling to to remove a box containing an injured Barred Owl from my car. “Mom,” called my daughter, Skye, from the doorway. “We have to get my new glasses before the store closes!”
“Just one minute,” I said. “I’ll be right there!”
The owl was a beautiful adult with a fractured humerus. I carried him into the clinic, gave him fluids and wrapped his wing, and was just about to close the crate door when a hippoboscid whipped out from under his feathers, buzzed around my head, and disappeared.
As I mentioned, we do not like hippoboscids. They hide in the plumage of birds – especially sick or injured ones – and suck their blood. When the saintly rehabber attempts to give the bird a thorough physical, the nasty little parasites fly off the bird and sometimes slip beneath the rehabber’s clothing. Hence, the animosity.
I had to be at the store in 40 minutes, so there was no time to find out exactly where it went. I raced into the house, called for Skye, grabbed my keys, and, as I was crossing the kitchen, felt a buzzing on the back of my neck.
I shot into the air and came down twirling like a ballerina, desperately trying to pound myself on the back in the vain hope of squishing it. I rushed to the refrigerator and rubbed against it, like a horse against a fence post. Skye appeared and regarded me steadily.
“What are you doing?” she asked, deadpan.
We climbed into the car. Where was the damned thing? I thought desperately. Glommed onto the back of my head? Crawling down my spine? Maybe it flew off me, I reasoned, then felt something move.
“Arrggghhh!” I cried.
“What? What?” said Skye. “What is it?”
I continue to cling to the sad, pathetic hope that someday my daughter will think I’m cool, maybe even kind of hip, even though I’m always wearing rubber boots, ratty jeans, and ranting about clearcutting and oil spills. I realized there, in the car, that my hope would be forever dashed should she discover that I was driving her to the mall with a flat fly crawling around under my clothing.
“It’s nothing!” I said. “I just got an electric shock!”
“But you weren’t touching anything but the steering wheel!” she retorted. Heaving a great sigh, she plugged in her Ipod and stared out the window.
There was little I could do except drive, and the radio offered nothing but the worst of the 70’s metal bands. Left to my own devices, I began to wonder about the personal life of the flat fly who was accompanying me to the mall. I envisioned him as the tiny leader of a brave band of freedom fighters, all seeking to overthrow a repressive and brutal military junta. He had just hijacked a cargo plane filled with supplies.
That would be me.
Should I name the hijacker? I wondered.
Yes. I will call him Fernando.
We arrived at the mall. A woman approached me with a big smile and a bottle of perfume. I smiled back. I wondered what she would do if Fernando suddenly emerged from my sleeve and disappeared down the front of her shirt.
“Mom!” said Skye. “Come on – we’re late!”
I heard nothing from Fernando throughout the eyeglasses pickup, nor during the drive home. I began to suspect he was napping, saving his strength for the coup. Although I was becoming quite fond of him, the second we arrived home I headed for the bathroom.
I took an energetic shower. “Fernando!” I called in a cheerful falsetto. “Where are you?” Nothing. This called for a different tactic. I eyed the pile of clothing in the corner. “Fernando Emilio Urquizo y Lagachas!” I shouted. “I am prepared to offer you a cease fire, as well as a powerful position in my new government!”
“Mom!” called Skye’s voice sharply. “Is someone in there with you?”