Insects on Urinals

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Some time during the Victorian era, honey bees began appearing painted onto the tops of urinals. Why honey bees? Likely because of a pun from the insect’s Latin family name “apis“. Honey bees are not the only insect to be featured on urinals, and it can be quite common in the modern era.

A Victorian public urinal
A Victorian public urinal Photo – Elliott Brown

During the 1960s, Jos Van Bedoff noticed something while in the Dutch army. Someone had placed red dots on the backs of the urinals. What’s more, is that the urinals with the red dots had much less mess surrounding them. This was important to a man regularly on janitorial duty such as himself. About 20 years later, as a maintenance man, he added flies to the backs of urinals for the same effect.

An ancient urinal in Sri Lanka Photo © Sapumal Hewawasam
An ancient urinal in Sri Lanka
Photo © Sapumal Hewawasam

His idea spread quickly. Today, you’ll find flies painted on the backs of urinals around the globe. Especially areas with public restrooms that see a lot of foot traffic (Schiphol Airport reported an 80% drop in spills when they added flies). Van Bedoff believed this reduction in spills was because men wanted to achieve some sort of victory over easily killed prey. Whatever the reason, it appears the targets may be here to stay.

Music: Flight of the Bumblebee from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Tale of the Tsar Saltan

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