How and why would flies get into oint­ments?

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Q&a - Richard Jones

To­day, oint­ments come in ster­ile pots and tubes, the ac­tive phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­gre­di­ent mixed with an oily car­ry­ing agent. Th­ese are unattrac­tive to in­sects, and may even con­tain other chem­i­cals to kill mi­cro-or­gan­isms, bac­te­ria and fungi. The ex­pres­sion ‘a fly in the oint­ment’, mean­ing a small thing that ru­ins all, is likely from the Bi­ble, a time when oint­ments would have been brewed from all man­ner of nat­u­ral unc­tions in­clud­ing tal­low (ren­dered an­i­mal fat), veg­etable oils and beeswax. Un­like in­ert mod­ern syn­thetic bases, th­ese would have had a ripe aroma from the start, at­tract­ing plenty of cu­ri­ous in­sects (all re­ferred to then as 'flies'). An­i­mal fat oint­ments would en­tice blowflies and tiny car­rion bee­tles, which would mis­take the med­i­ca­tion for the pu­tres­cent stage of car­rion de­cay. Plant con­coc­tions could re­sem­ble fer­ment­ing sap, crushed leaves or de­cay­ing fruit, bring­ing in house­flies, fruit­flies, fun­gus gnats and even hov­er­flies and bark bee­tles. Beeswax, and the heavy com­plex scent of the hive, would be a ma­jor draw to wax moths, wasps, hor­nets and bees.

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