Hoverfly Picture Hoverfly

The Flies (Diptera)

The Diptera or true flies are an amazing order of insects which can be readily recognised in their adult forms because those which have wings, and most of them do, have only two, nearly all other flying insects have four wings; in the true flies the hind wings have become modified into a pair of small balancing organs called halteres. The only other insects with two wings are the Strepsiptera which are quite small and difficult to find and can be easily distinguished from true flies because they have the forewings reduced to balancing knobs and fly with their hindwings, the opposite arrangement to flies.

Flies are one of the major success's of the insect world, and the 145,000+ species (about 160 families). Although not as speciose as the Coleoptera (550,000 species world wide) in the tropics, in the cooler parts of the world flies are the dominant insect group both in terms of species and in number of individuals. In the UK the known number of Beetle species is about 4,000 and the known number of Fly species about 6,500. They are an incredibly diverse group with a wide variety of fascinating life cycles and ecological adaptations, studying even one family of them is a life-time's work.



Although the taxonomy of the diptera is under constant revision at the moment the concensus seems to be that they should be divided into two sub-orders, the Nematocera and the Brachycera. These sub-orders are then divided into a series of Infra-orders five for the Nematocera and four for the Brachycera. However for convenience I will deal with them as three separate groups, Nematocera with 35 families, the Brachycera: Orthorrhapha with 27 families and the Brachycera: Cyclorrhapha with 99 families.

The Nematocera are the Craneflies (Mosquito Hawks in the USA), Mosquitoes, Water Midges and Fungus Gnats as well as the No-see-ums. (Larva with a complete head and horizontally biting mandibles, pupa obtect, generally free, antennae of adults usually many segmented, pleural suture of mesothorax generally straight).
The Brachycera therefore are all the remaining flies.
The Brachycera: Orthorrhapha are the Dance Flies, Robber Flies, Horse Flies, Soldier Flies, Bee Flies and Long-legged Flies and more (larva with an incomplete head and vertically biting mandibles, pupa obtect, generally free, antennae of adult generally three segmented, pleural suture of mesothorax twice bent).
The Brachycera: Cyclorrapha are the Fruit Flies, Hover Flies, House Flies, Stable Flies, Dung Flies, Blowflies, Bots, and many other families of smaller flies. (larva with a vestigial head, pupa exarate, usually in a puparium, antennae of adult with three segments, pleural suture twice bent, head with frontal lunule and a ptilinum).
Flies can be found in most places in the world, and the common house fly Musca domestica has followed mankind to every corner of the earth.

Flies have a holometabolous life cycle, this means that the egg hatches into a small grub like creature which doesn't look anything like a fly at all, you have probably all seen maggots and mosquito larvae. The larvae eats and grows and occasionally sheds its skin until it is big enough to make an adult fly, then it pupates, in the more advanced forms inside its old larval skin (unlike most insects and the less advanced flies which shed their larval skin before they pupate) and changes into and adult fly.

Because there are so many species of flies with so many different life styles it is difficult to generalize however larval flies live nearly everywhere; in the soil, the ponds and streams, the sea, in plants and animals, and eat nearly everything from dung and decaying plant material through living plants to animals including us and even other flies.

Flies are great opportunists and as adults they also eat a great variety of foods, though some don't eat at all. The mouth parts of adult flies are all designed either for sucking and sponging, or piercing and sucking, no adult fly can chew its food, biting flies actually should be called stabbing flies. Flies have been of incredible importance to mankind all over the world, and it is possible to say that on many occasions it has been a fly which has changed the cause of history. This is because many of the primary diseases of humanity are transmitted by flies. (This means the disease is actually caused by a bacterial, viral or protozoan agent which spends part of its life in a fly and gets into the person when a fly pierces that persons skin) two examples are Malaria (transmitted by mosquitos, which is believed to have killed more human beings than any other known disease and is still a major cause of illness in many countries, and Yellow Fever. It is well known that the assault of the tetse fly on both people and livestock has been the main obstacle to European colonization of North Africa.

Flies As Pests

Flies are beautiful, often very beautiful, and always fascinating, but a few species, for one reason or another are a nuisance to us in our daily lives and particularly in our homes. Because a housefly type of fly tastes a potential food item with its feet it is always landing on anything that looks tasty to check it out, unfortunately it does not wash its feet after visiting a rotten peach or a piece of dog dung and so bacteria can be easily exchanged from one medium to another.
Fly control is a large and varied industry, and while it is obviously a good idea to have flyscreens on your doors and windows some flies will still get in. Personally I have a great dislike of spraying chemicals around my home, or any enclosed space I am living in. Fortunately chemical sprays are not the only method of fly control available, Electric Fly Killers are not only efficient, but healthier and more ecologically friendly than any chemical control measures.

Spiders and Flies

Though everyone thinks of spiders feeding primarily on flies, and it is true that spiders eat an awful lot of flies, the spiders don't always get it all their own way. A Dance Fly Microphorus crassipes (Empididae) steals much of its food from the spiders own web. Robber Flies (Asillidae) have been observed catching and eating spiders which were sitting on a blade of grass. Other families of flies the Acroceridae and Cyrtidae are all internal parasite of spiders during their larval life. The eggs are laid on the ground and the first instar larva wait on damp vegetation for a passing spider. They leap up and attach themselves to the spiders body where they slowly eat their way through its cuticle before eating the spider from the inside out.

Flightless flies.

Not all flies can fly some have given up their wings and in some cases their halteres as well. this has occurred in a number of families, including the some Gnats (Mycetophilidae and Sciaridae) i.e. Epidapus venaticus, Midges (Chironomidae) i.e. females of the genus Pontomyia, Crane Flies (Tipulidae) i.e. the snow-fly Chionea sp which lives above the snow line in Europe in temperatures as low as -10 C, Coffin Flies (Phoridae), some species of Louse Flies (Hippoboscidae) i.e. the Sheep Ked Melophagus ovinus, and the Bee-louse Braula caeca (Chamaemyiidae).

Rare Flies

Although some flies are very common and can be found all over the world some are very rare i.e. Mormotomyia hirsuta a largish fly which lives in a crack about a meter wide in the rocky outcrop at the top of Ukazzi Hill in Kenya. The larva feed on the dung of the bats which also live in this rocky crevice, and it is believed the adults feed on the sweat and other body secretions of the bats. This is the only place in the world where this fly has ever been found

Because of the large number of species of flies in the world, around 160 different families, it would be impossible to tell you about them all, so the rest of this article will introduce you to a number of flies and then tell you some interesting facts about them.



More About Flies

The Nematocera
Mosquitos, Love Bugs etc
The Lower Brachycera
Horse Flies, Robber Flies etc
The Higher Brachycera
House Flies, Fruit Flies etc

Fly Families of the World

Nematocera    B:Orthorrhapha    Brachycera: Cyclorrhapha
Anisopodidae    Acroceridae    Acartophthalmidae Glossinidae Platystomatidae
Axymyiidae    Apioceridae    Agromyzidae Helcomyzidae Pseudopomyzidae
Bibionidae    Asilidae    Anthomyiidae Heleomyzidae Psilidae
Blephariceridae    Atelestidae    Anthomyzidae Heterocheilidae Pyrgotidae
Bolitophilidae    Athericidae    Asteidae Hippoboscidae Rhinophoridae
Canthyloscelidae    Bombyliidae    Aulacigastridae Hypodermatidae Richardiidae
Cecidomyiidae    Brachystomatidae    Braulidae Huttoninidae Ropalomeridae
Ceratopogonidae    Coenomyiidae    Calliphoridae Ironomyiidae Sarcophagidae
Chaoboridae    Dolichopodidae    Camillidae Lauxaniidae Scathophagidae
Chironomidae    Empididae    Campichoetidae Lonchaeidae Sciadoceridae
Culicidae    Hilarimorphidae    Canacidae Lonchopteridae Sciomyzidae
Cylindrotomidae    Hybotidae    Carnidae Megamerinidae Sepsidae
Deuterophlebiidae    Microphoridae    Chamaemyiidae Micropezidae Somatiidae
Diadocidiidae    Mydidae    Chloropidae Milichiidae Sphaeroceridae
Ditomyiidae    Mythicomyiidae    Chyromyidae Mormotomyiidae Stenomicridae
Dixidae    Nemestrinidae    Chyropteromyzidae Muscidae Strebliidae
Hesperinidae    Pantophthalmidae    Clusiidae Mystacinobiidae Strongylophthalmyiidae
Keroplatidae    Pelecorhynchidae    Cnemospathidae Nannodastiidae Syringogastridae
Limoniidae    Rachiceridae    Coelopidae Neottiophilidae Syrphidae
Mycetobiidae    Rhagionidae    Conopidae Neriidae Tachinidae
Mycetophilidae    Scenopinidae    Cremifaniidae Neurochaetidae Tachiniscidae
Pachyneuridae    Stratiomyidae    Cryptochetidae Nothybidae Tanypezidae
Pediciidae    Tabanidae    Ctenostylidae Nycteribiidae Tephritidae
Perissommatidae    Therevidae    Curtonotidae Odiniidae Teratomyzidae
Pleciidae    Vermilionidae    Cypselosomatidae Oestridae Tethinidae
Psychodidae    Xylomyidae    Diastatidae Opetiidae Thyreophoridae
Ptychopteridae    Xylophagidae    Diopsidae Opomyzidae Trixoscelididae
Scatopsidae       Drosophilidae Otitidae Ulidiidae
Sciaridae       Dryomyzidae Pallopteridae Xenasteidae
Simuliidae       Eginiidae Periscelididae
Synneuridae       Ephydridae Phaeomyiidae
Tanyderidae       Eurychoromyiidae Phoridae
Thaumaleidae       Fanniidae Piophilidae
Tipulidae       Fergusoninidae Pipunculidae
Trichoceridae       Gasterophilidae Platypezidae

Diptera on the Web (General)

Diptera Info A website for dipterists with some areas available to non-members, lots of images in the gallery.
Catalog of the Diptera of the Australasian and Oceanian Regions An excellent site
Flies at NMNH
The Tachinid Times

Book Reviews

Biological Atlas of Aquatic Insects by W. Wichard, W. Arens and G. Eisenbeis
A Fly for the Prosecution, by M. Lee Goff
Aquatic Insects of Northern Europe Vol. 2. Odonata and Diptera; a taxonomic handbook. by Anders Nilsson (Ed.)
Naturalists' Handbook Series Vol. 5 Hoverflies by Francis Gilbert (Very UK oriented)
Naturalists' Handbook Vol. 23 Blowflies by Z. Erzinçlioglu (Very UK oriented)
The Fly in your Eye, by Jim heath and Janet Baxter

A Few other Flys on the Web

Virtual FlyLab genetics education resource

Intertidal flies of the genus Aphrostylus Cornish Biological Records Unit
FlyStuff KFF's Hot links for biologists - Prof. Dr. K.-F. Fischbach
Diptera holdings at US NMNH
List of Families University of Michigan Museum of Zoology
Diptera catalogue at UMMZ



Have You Seen The Other Earthlife Web Chapters
The Home Page of the Fish The Birds Home Page The Insects Home Page The Mammals Home Page The Prokaryotes Home Page The Lichens Home Page

Index Gif               



This page was designed and written by Mr Gordon Ramel



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