FlyNap is nitrous oxide for fruit flies.

Genetic experiments performed on the common fruit fly have yielded some of the most important discoveries in biology. But when you need to study them, how do you get the damned little things to stay still?

Answer: you give them a mild dose of FlyNap, a solution of triethyamine in ethanol sold by the Carolina Biological Supply Company. The stuff comes in a little bottle with a dropper or a swab; you place just a few drops on a piece of cotton or on a q-tip and leave it in the fly chamber. In a few minutes the drosophilae are off in dream land . . .

While they sleep you're free to do any sort of screening or phenotyping you want. The flies will stay down for 5-30 minutes depending on how much you give them and for how long — and, yes, if you give them too much they tend not to wake up. Otherwise, FlyNap is harmless to them.

Is FlyNap bad for humans? Well, according to the MSDS sheet, yes:

Triethylamine is a severe irritant to eyes and mucous membranes.
Prolonged overexposure to triethylamine may cause damage to liver
and/or kidneys.
Emergency Overview:
Potential Health Effects:
Eyes: May cause irritation.
Skin: May cause irritation.
Ingestion: May cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
Inhalation: May cause irritation to respiratory tract.

And according to my own personal experience, yes. If you get this stuff on your skin it takes about 24 hours to get it off, even after repeated washings with acetone. If you should be so unfortunate as to get this stuff somewhere close to your mouth or nostrils then you will be smelling the stuff all day. It does get you a bit high, but its also nauseating.*


*No, for the love of God I was not so desperate that I turned to huffing FlyNap. What happened was this: After getting the stuff on my fingers, I went to play trombone for about an hour. Playing the 'bone requires that you keep your left hand close to your nose and mouth all the time — and you can guess what happened: I spent the entire hour inhaling the fumes coming off of my fingers, and by the time I realized what was happening I was right wacky.
There are alternatives to using FlyNap. My Biology teacher and I experimented with them when the FlyNap shipment did not come in.


Alternative one: Freeze the flies for a short period of time, in order to calm them down enough that they can be transferred to a petri dish for sexing, etc.

Result: Half of the flies die. The other half are knocked cold (heh, heh) but reawaken as soon as you have the petri dish closed and have no way of getting them back into the habitat vial without freezing them (killing most of them) again.

Alternative two: Oxygen deprivation.

This was my idea. We placed alka-seltzer in a beaker with water, and routed a tube into the habitat. This didn't kill quite so many, and they seemed to be rather securely unconscious. We opened the top, started to shake them into the dish, and by the time the oxygen had hit them half were already in the air. It was a mess... and five lab groups were doing it before we realized what was happening. We spent a few minutes trying to catch those that we could (futile), and gave up.

Alternative three: Use rubbing alcohol in place of FlyNap. Deposit a drop into each habitat vial.

This kills all of the flies.

At this point, we decided that there were no other alternatives, and postponed the lab until FlyNap (and more drosophila) could be secured. We did nothing for nearly a week. Mission successful.

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