Overview

Brief Summary

Flies, gnats, maggots, midges, mosquitoes, keds, bots, etc. are all common names for members of the order Diptera. This diversity of names documents the importance of the group to man and reflects the range of organisms in the order. The order is one of the four largest groups of living organisms. There are more known flies than vertebrates. These insects are a major component of virtually all non-marine ecosystems. Only the cold arctic and antarctic ice caps are without flies. The economic importance of the group is immense. One need only consider the ability of flies to transmit diseases. Mosquitoes and black flies are responsible for more human suffering and death than any other group of organisms except for the transmitted pathogens and man! Flies also destroy our food, especially grains and fruits. On the positive side of the ledger, outside their obviously essential roles in maintaining our ecosystem, flies are of little direct benefit to man. Some are important as experimental animals (Drosophila) and biological control agents of weeds and other insects. Others are crucial in helping to solve crimes or in pollinating plants. Without Diptera there would be, for example, no chocolate!

Some 150,000 different kinds of flies (Order Diptera, Class Insecta, Phylum Arthropoda) are now known and estimates are that there may be more than 1,000,000 species living today. These species are classified into 188 families and some 10,000 genera. Of these, some 3,125 species are known only from fossils, the oldest of which, a limoniid crane fly, is some 225 MILLION years old (Upper Triassic (Carnian)).

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Commonly called true flies, mosquitoes, midges, deer- and horseflies and houseflies feature among the most familiar Diptera. Flies are not only abundant in popular perception but also have particular veterinary and medical importance for vectoring diseases and as pests of agriculture, forestry and husbandry. However, some species are useful to man as parasitoids and predators of insect pests and as plant pollinators. Generally, adults are minute to small, soft-bodied insects with a highly mobile head, large compound eyes, antennae of variable size and structure, and sucking mouthparts. They have only one pair of functional wings, the second pair being changed into small head-like bodies called halteres. Legs are usually long, with five-segmented tarsi. Adults are usually very active and are found in all major habitats. They are often associated with flowers and with decaying organic matter, but females of some groups are blood-sucking. Larvae are eruciform and legless in most species. They develop mainly in moist or wet habitats such as soil, mud, decaying organic matter, and in plant or animal tissues. Only a small proportion of larvae is truly aquatic. The majority are liquid-feeders or microphagous.

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Diptera Overview

Order Diptera include true flies, black flies, midges, fruit flies, mosquitoes, blow flies, and house flies.  True Flies can be found throughout the world except for Antarctica.  Diptera can be found in the fossil record as far back as the Upper Triassic. Flies undergo complete metamorphosis.  Larvae hatch almost immediately after the eggs are laid by a female.  Fly larvae are commonly known as maggots.  Maggots lack legs and mostly consume decaying organic matter.  They pupate inside silk cocoons.  Almost all of the adult flies have functional wings and halteres, which balance the flies when they fly.  The adults do not live more than a few days and are mainly focused on reproduction.  They feed on sap, blood, or nectar.  Mosquitoe larvae, wrigglers, are aquatic and feed on algae.  The pupae are aquatic and breathe at the surface of the water.  Adult mosquitoes are usually active at night and rarely go farther than a few hundred yards of where they emerged from their pupa.

  • "Fly." Wikipedia. 2013. .
  • Borror, Donald, Charles Triplehorn, and Norman Johnson. An Introduction to the Study of Insects. 6th ed. Saunders College Publishing, 1989. 499-575. Print.
  • Wiegmann, Brian M. and David K. Yeates. 2007. Diptera. True Flies. Version 29 November 2007 (under construction). http://tolweb.org/Diptera/8226/2007.11.29 in The Tree of Life Web Project, http://tolweb.org/
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Distribution

Geographic Range

Flies are one of the most diverse groups of insects. There are over 150,000 species known from around the world, and there are certainly many still undiscovered. In the Great Lakes region there are probably over 2,000 species

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); palearctic (Native ); oriental (Native ); ethiopian (Native ); neotropical (Native ); australian (Native )

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Physical Description

Morphology

Physical Description

There are many different shapes of True Flies. They are soft-bodied insects, most are fairly small (less than 1.5 cm long) but a few can be larger (up to 4 cm!). Adult flies have only 1 pair of wings, unlike other insects. The second pair has evolved into small balancing organs that look like little clubs. Adult flies feed on liquids and have either thin sucking mouthparts (like Mosquitos) or sponging mouthparts, a tube with wider sponge at the end (like Flower Flies and House Flies). Most adult flies have large eyes, to help them see when they are flying. Many adult flies look like wasps or bees. Sometimes they look a lot like The larvae of True Flies all look like thick segmented worms, but they have many different shapes. They don't have jointed legs, unlike beetle larvae. Some have mouthparts and a distinct head, but most don't. The pupal stage of a True Fly is covered with tough skin. It may have some of its legs and body parts visible, or it may be hidden inside a larval skin, and just look like a brown capsule.

Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: sexes alike; female larger; male more colorful; sexes shaped differently

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Ecology

Habitat

True Flies can be found almost anywhere. Adults of many species are strong fliers, which helps them locate supplies of food for their larvae. Fly larvae are most common in damp habitats, and flies populations are largest in humid places with lots of moisture.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; polar ; terrestrial ; freshwater

Terrestrial Biomes: tundra ; taiga ; desert or dune ; chaparral ; forest ; rainforest ; scrub forest ; mountains

Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams

Wetlands: marsh ; swamp ; bog

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Trophic Strategy

Food Habits

Adult flies often drink nectar. Some feed on any liquid that has nutrients. They also can "spit" onto dry food and then suck up the spit and some extra nourishment from the dry food. This is how they contaminate human food. Some female flies drink vertebrate blood, such as from Mammalia to get the protein they need for their eggs. A few adults are predators, they grab other Insecta, stab them with their mouthparts and suck out their blood and organs.

Many flies do most of their feeding as larvae. Some eat fungi or plants, especially fruit. Some lay their eggs in the stems or leaves, and they larvae give off chemicals that make the plant swell up into a gall. This protects the fly larva and gives it plenty to eat. Other species eat dead animals, and many eat dung. Some filter microscopic food particles from freshwater water. One big group of flies is parasitic. They lay their eggs inside or on Insecta and Araneae, and the larvae feed on the inside of their host while it is still alive! A few species are parasites of vertebrates, such as Mammalia and Aves, and get in wounds or under the skin.

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Associations

In Great Britain and/or Ireland:
Animal / pathogen
Batkoa apiculata infects live adult of Diptera

Animal / pathogen
Batkoa papillata infects live adult of Diptera

Animal / pathogen
Conidiobolus thromboides infects live adult of Diptera

Animal / parasitoid
solitary (usually) stroma of Cordyceps forquignonii is parasitoid of dead, on ground Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Crabro cribrarius stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Crabro peltarius stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Crossocerus binotatus stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Crossocerus capitosus stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Crossocerus exiguus stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Crossocerus megacephalus stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Crossocerus pusillus stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Crossocerus quadrimaculatus stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Crossocerus wesmaeli stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / pathogen
Cylindrodendrum anamorph of Cylindrodendrum suffultum infects pupa of Diptera

Fungus / feeder
Diptera feeds on spore mass of fruitbody of Phallus hadriani

Plant / pollenated
adult of Diptera pollenates or fertilises flower of Dactylorhiza maculata

Fungus / gall
larva of Diptera causes galls on Daedalea quercina

Fungus / gall
larva of Diptera causes galls on fruitbody of Conocybe

Animal / predator
leaf of Drosera rotundifolia is predator of Diptera
Other: major host/prey

Animal / predator
nymph of Dryophilocoris flavoquadrimaculatus is predator of Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Ectemnius borealis stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Ectemnius cavifrons stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Ectemnius cephalotes stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Ectemnius continuus stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Ectemnius dives stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Ectemnius lapidarius stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Ectemnius lituratus stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Ectemnius rubicola stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Ectemnius ruficornis stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Ectemnius sexcinctus stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / pathogen
Entomophthora culicis infects live adult of Diptera

Animal / pathogen
Entomophthora muscae infects live adult of Diptera

Animal / pathogen
pure white to grey or rarely green, shaggy rhizoids of Erynia conica infects adult of Diptera
Remarks: Other: uncertain

Animal / pathogen
Erynia gracilis infects live adult of Diptera

Animal / pathogen
Erynia radicans infects live Diptera

Animal / pathogen
white to grey swollen rhizoids of Erynia rhizospora infects white to grey swollen rhizoids of adult of Diptera

Animal / pathogen
Furia americana infects adult of Diptera

Animal / pathogen
Furia montana infects adult of Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Lindenius albilabris stocks nest with Diptera

Animal / predator
nymph of Loricula elegantula is predator of larva of Diptera

Animal / predator
nymph of Orthotylus tenellus is predator of Diptera

Animal / predator / stocks nest with
female of Oxybelus uniglumis stocks nest with larva of Diptera

Animal / pathogen
few, large, white or greenish, disk-ended rhizoids of Pandora dipterigena infects adult of Diptera

Animal / pathogen
Pandora echinospora infects adult of Diptera

Animal / predator
leaf of Pinguicula vulgaris is predator of adult of Diptera
Other: major host/prey

Animal / associate
synnematum of Polycephalomyces anamorph of Polycephalomyces ramosus is associated with Diptera
Other: major host/prey

Animal / predator
nymph of Reduvius personatus is predator of Diptera

Animal / parasite
Tolypocladium anamorph of Tolypocladium cylindrosporum parasitises live larva of Diptera

Animal / parasitoid
perithecium of Torrubiella albotomentosa is parasitoid of pupa of Diptera

Animal / pathogen
Zoophthora radicans infects live adult of Diptera

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Ecosystem Roles

Some flies are imporant pollinators. Many fly larvae are part of the natural 'clean-up squad', helping get rid of dung and dead animals. Flies are important food sources for many other animals.

Ecosystem Impact: pollinates; biodegradation

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Predation

Adult flies avoid predators with their speed and alertness. Also, many flies mimic stinging insects such as wasps or bees, so predators will avoid them. Larvae often live in places that are hard to reach.

Known Predators:

  • Rodentia (eat pupae)
  • Soricidae (larvae and pupae)
  • Talpidae (larvae and pupae)
  • Aves
  • Anura (mostly adult flies)
  • Anura (mostly adult flies)
  • Araneae
  • Formicidae
  • Hymenoptera
  • other Diptera 
  • Heteroptera
  • Carabidae (larvae and pupae)

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Known predators

Diptera (Dipteran larvae) is prey of:
Lagopus
Plectrophenax nivalis
Calidris maritima
Araneae
Stercorarius
Larus hyperboreus
Somateria
Gavia stellata
Clangula hyemalis
Spermophilus tridecemlineatus
Bartramia longicauda
Sturnella neglecta
Pooecetes gramineus
Spizella passerina
Spizella pallida
Eremophila alpestris
Anura
Thamnophis
Amia calva
Lepisosteidae
Esox
Ardeidae
Threskiornithidae
Passerina cyanea
Hylocichla mustelina
Arachnida
Geothlypis trichas
Picoides pubescens
Myiarchus
Baeolophus bicolor
Vireo olivaceus
Melanerpes erythrocephalus
Rhinogobius flumineus
Cobitis biwae
Cottus pollux
Maroco jouyi
Oncorhynchus rhodurus
Gomphus
Actinopterygii
Aves
Leucosticte atrata
Anthus spinoletta
Coleoptera
Scolopacidae
Tyrannidae
Apodidae
Scorpiones
Geococcyx velox
Clarias gariepinus
Alestes imberi
Marcusenios macrolepidotus
Mormyrus longirostris
Haplochromis darlingi
Tilapia rendalli
Hydrocynus vittatus
Ocypode
Charadriiformes
Brachystosternus
Tropidurus
Chiroptera
Hirundinidae
Chordeiles
Geositta
Calcarius mccownii
Calcarius ornatus
Calamospiza melanocorys
Asilidae
Peromyscus maniculatus
Orthoptera
Conomyrma bicolor
Pheidole
Novomessor cockerelli
Crematogaster clara
Iridomyrmex pruinosum
Salvelinus fontinalis
Eucalia inconstans
Salmo salar
Phoxinus phoxinus
Otus nudipes
Amphisbaena caeca
Herpestes auropunctatus
Eleutherodactylus coqui
Eleutherodactylus richmondi
Eleutherodactylus portoricensis
Eleutherodactylus wightmanae
Eleutherodactylus eneidae
Eleutherodactylus hedricki
Todus mexicanus
Anolis cuvieri
Anolis evermanni
Anolis stratulus
Anolis gundlachi
Leptodactylus albilabris
Myiarchus antillarum
Vireo latimeri
Icterus dominicensis
Vireo altiloquus
Seiurus motacilla
Sphaerodactylus klauberi
Sphaerodactylus macrolepis
Diploglossus pleei
Chlorostilbon maugeus
Anthracothorax viridis
Parula americana
Dendroica caerulescens
Dendroica discolor
Setophaga ruticilla
Opiliones
Odonata
Gonatista grisea
Hymenoptera
Margarops fuscatus
Tyrannus dominicensis
Dendroica petechia
Loxigilla noctis
Trochilidae
Coereba flaveola
Anolis gingivinus
Anolis pogus
Hemiptera
Chilopoda
Platichthys flesus

Based on studies in:
Norway: Spitsbergen (Coastal)
Canada: Manitoba (Grassland)
USA: Alaska (Tundra)
USA: Arizona, Sonora Desert (Desert or dune)
Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest)
USA: Montana (Tundra)
USA: California, Cabrillo Point (Grassland)
USA: Florida, South Florida (Swamp)
USA: Illinois (Forest)
Japan (River)
USA: Iowa, Mississippi River (River)
Uganda (Lake or pond)
Africa, Lake McIlwaine (Lake or pond)
Peru (Coastal)
USA: Texas, Franklin Mtns (Carrion substrate)
Canada: Ontario, Mad River (River)
Wales, Dee River (River)
Scotland (Estuarine)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • A. C. Twomey, The bird population of an elm-maple forest with special reference to aspection, territorialism, and coactions, Ecol. Monogr. 15(2):175-205, from p. 202 (1945).
  • B. E. Marshall, The fish of Lake McIlwaine. In Lake McIlwaine: the eutrophication and recovery of a tropical man-made lake (J. A. Thornton, Ed.) Vol 49 Monographia Biologicae, D. W. Junk Publishers, The Hague, pp. 156-188, from p. 180 (1982).
  • C. A. Carlson, Summer bottom fauna of the Mississippi River, above Dam 19, Keokuk, Iowa, Ecology 49(1):162-168, from p. 167 (1968).
  • D. L. Pattie and N. A. M. Verbeek, Alpine birds of the Beartooth Mountains, Condor 68:167-176 (1966); Alpine mammals of the Beartooth Mountains, Northwest Sci. 41(3):110-117 (1967).
  • H. W. Koepcke and M. Koepcke, Sobre el proceso de transformacion de la materia organica en las playas arenosas marinas del Peru. Publ. Univ. Nac. Mayer San Marcos, Zoologie Serie A, No. 8, from p. 24 (1952).
  • Hall SJ, Raffaelli D (1991) Food-web patterns: lessons from a species-rich web. J Anim Ecol 60:823–842
  • Huxham M, Beany S, Raffaelli D (1996) Do parasites reduce the chances of triangulation in a real food web? Oikos 76:284–300
  • J. Brown, Ecological investigations of the Tundra biome in the Prudhoe Bay Region, Alaska, Special Report, no. 2, Biol. Pap. Univ. Alaska (1975), from p. xiv.
  • K. Schoenly and W. Reid, 1983. Community structure of carrion arthropods in the Chihuahuan Desert. J. Arid Environ. 6:253-263, from pp. 256-58 & unpub. material.
  • L. D. Harris and G. B. Bowman, Vertebrate predator subsystem. In: Grasslands, Systems Analysis and Man, A. I. Breymeyer and G. M. Van Dyne, Eds. (International Biological Programme Series, no. 19, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, England, 1980), pp. 591-
  • L. D. Harris and L. Paur, A quantitative food web analysis of a shortgrass community, Technical Report No. 154, Grassland Biome. U.S. International Biological Program (1972), from p. 17.
  • M. J. Burgis, I. G. Dunn, G. G. Ganf, L. M. McGowan and A. B. Viner, Lake George, Uganda: Studies on a tropical freshwater ecosystem. In: Productivity Problems of Freshwaters, Z. Kajak and A. Hillbricht-Ilkowska, Eds. (Polish Scientific, Warsaw, 1972), p
  • M. Tsuda, Interim results of the Yoshino River productivity survey, especially on benthic animals. In: Productivity Problems of Freshwaters, Z. Kajak and A. Hillbricht-Ilkowska, Eds. (Polish Scientific, Warsaw, 1972), pp. 827-841, from p. 839.
  • P. G. Howes, The Giant Cactus Forest and Its World: A Brief Biology of the Giant Cactus Forest of Our American Southwest (Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, New York; Little, Brown, Boston; 1954), from pp. 222-239, from p. 227.
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 383 (1930).
  • R. M. Badcock, 1949. Studies in stream life in tributaries of the Welsh Dee. J. Anim. Ecol. 18:193-208, from pp. 202-206 and Price, P. W., 1984, Insect Ecology, 2nd ed., New York: John Wiley, p. 23
  • V. S. Summerhayes and C. S. Elton, Contributions to the ecology of Spitsbergen and Bear Island, J. Ecol. 11:214-286, from p. 232 (1923).
  • V. S. Summerhayes and C. S. Elton, Further contributions to the ecology of Spitzbergen, J. Ecol. 16:193-268, from p. 211 (1928).
  • V. S. Summerhayes and C. S. Elton, Further contributions to the ecology of Spitzbergen, J. Ecol. 16:193-268, from p. 217 (1928).
  • W. E. Ricker, 1934. An ecological classification of certain Ontario streams. Univ. Toronto Studies, Biol. Serv. 37, Publ. Ontario Fish. Res. Lab. 49:7-114, from pp. 78, 89.
  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Known prey organisms

Diptera (Dipteran larvae) preys on:
dead plants

algae
Helianthus
Agropyron
Stipa
humus
Plectoptera
Odonata
Hemiptera
sap and plant juices
lichens
Bryophyta
phanerogams
Oligochaeta
Chironomidae
zooplankton
Asplanchna
Mesocyclops
alpine vegetation
willows
sedges
grasses
detritus
fungi
bacteria
carcass
Aves
Artemisia frigida
Gutierrezia
Ratibida columnifera
Mirabilis
Ericameria nauseosa
Cleome serrulata
Liatris punctata
Descurainia pinnata
Atriplex canescens
Elymus elymoides
Picradeniopsis oppositifolia
Opuntia macrorhiza
Thelesperma filifolium
Senecio vulgaris
Margarops fuscatus
Coleoptera
Hymenoptera
Orthoptera
Amazona vittata
Isoptera
Auchenorrhyncha
Sternorrhyncha
Lepidoptera
Herpestes auropunctatus
Eleutherodactylus coqui
Eleutherodactylus richmondi
Eleutherodactylus portoricensis
Eleutherodactylus wightmanae
Eleutherodactylus eneidae
Eleutherodactylus hedricki
Melanerpes portoricensis
Todus mexicanus
Mimocichla plumbea
Anolis cuvieri
Anolis evermanni
Anolis stratulus
Anolis gundlachi
Alsophis portoricensis
Leptodactylus albilabris
Myiarchus antillarum
Vireo latimeri
Nesospingus speculiferus
Icterus dominicensis
Vireo altiloquus
Seiurus aurocapillus
Seiurus motacilla
Rattus rattus
Bufo marinus
Chlorostilbon maugeus
Anthracothorax viridis
Mniotilta varia
Parula americana
Dendroica tigrina
Dendroica caerulescens
Dendroica discolor
Dendroica angelae
Setophaga ruticilla
Coereba flaveola
Loxigilla portoricensis
Eptesicus fuscus
Lasiurus borealis
Pteronotus parnelli
Spindalis zena
Diplopoda
Artibeus jamaicensis
Brachyphylla cavernarum
Erophylla sezekorni
Monophyllus redmani
Stenoderma rufum
Columba squamosa
Geotrygon montana
Euphonia musica
Phasmatidae
live leaves
sap
roots
pollen
nectar
fruit
seeds
flowers
fruit and seeds
nectar and floral
Collembola
Acari
leaves
POM

Based on studies in:
Norway: Spitsbergen (Coastal)
USA: Illinois (Forest)
USA: California, Cabrillo Point (Grassland)
New Zealand (Grassland)
Japan (River)
Uganda (Lake or pond)
Africa, Lake McIlwaine (Lake or pond)
Puerto Rico, El Verde (Rainforest)
Canada: Manitoba (Grassland)
USA: Florida, South Florida (Swamp)
USA: Montana (Tundra)
USA: Iowa, Mississippi River (River)
Scotland (Estuarine)
USA: Alaska (Tundra)
Peru (Coastal)
USA: Arizona, Sonora Desert (Desert or dune)

This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
  • A. C. Twomey, The bird population of an elm-maple forest with special reference to aspection, territorialism, and coactions, Ecol. Monogr. 15(2):175-205, from p. 202 (1945).
  • B. E. Marshall, The fish of Lake McIlwaine. In Lake McIlwaine: the eutrophication and recovery of a tropical man-made lake (J. A. Thornton, Ed.) Vol 49 Monographia Biologicae, D. W. Junk Publishers, The Hague, pp. 156-188, from p. 180 (1982).
  • C. A. Carlson, Summer bottom fauna of the Mississippi River, above Dam 19, Keokuk, Iowa, Ecology 49(1):162-168, from p. 167 (1968).
  • D. L. Pattie and N. A. M. Verbeek, Alpine birds of the Beartooth Mountains, Condor 68:167-176 (1966); Alpine mammals of the Beartooth Mountains, Northwest Sci. 41(3):110-117 (1967).
  • H. W. Koepcke and M. Koepcke, Sobre el proceso de transformacion de la materia organica en las playas arenosas marinas del Peru. Publ. Univ. Nac. Mayer San Marcos, Zoologie Serie A, No. 8, from p. 24 (1952).
  • Hall SJ, Raffaelli D (1991) Food-web patterns: lessons from a species-rich web. J Anim Ecol 60:823–842
  • Huxham M, Beany S, Raffaelli D (1996) Do parasites reduce the chances of triangulation in a real food web? Oikos 76:284–300
  • J. Brown, Ecological investigations of the Tundra biome in the Prudhoe Bay Region, Alaska, Special Report, no. 2, Biol. Pap. Univ. Alaska (1975), from p. xiv.
  • K. Paviour-Smith, The biotic community of a salt meadow in New Zealand, Trans. R. Soc. N.Z. 83(3):525-554, from p. 542 (1956).
  • L. D. Harris and G. B. Bowman, Vertebrate predator subsystem. In: Grasslands, Systems Analysis and Man, A. I. Breymeyer and G. M. Van Dyne, Eds. (International Biological Programme Series, no. 19, Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, England, 1980), pp. 591-
  • L. D. Harris and L. Paur, A quantitative food web analysis of a shortgrass community, Technical Report No. 154, Grassland Biome. U.S. International Biological Program (1972), from p. 17.
  • M. J. Burgis, I. G. Dunn, G. G. Ganf, L. M. McGowan and A. B. Viner, Lake George, Uganda: Studies on a tropical freshwater ecosystem. In: Productivity Problems of Freshwaters, Z. Kajak and A. Hillbricht-Ilkowska, Eds. (Polish Scientific, Warsaw, 1972), p
  • M. Tsuda, Interim results of the Yoshino River productivity survey, especially on benthic animals. In: Productivity Problems of Freshwaters, Z. Kajak and A. Hillbricht-Ilkowska, Eds. (Polish Scientific, Warsaw, 1972), pp. 827-841, from p. 839.
  • P. G. Howes, The Giant Cactus Forest and Its World: A Brief Biology of the Giant Cactus Forest of Our American Southwest (Duell, Sloan, and Pearce, New York; Little, Brown, Boston; 1954), from pp. 222-239, from p. 227.
  • R. D. Bird, Biotic communities of the Aspen Parkland of central Canada, Ecology, 11:356-442, from p. 383 (1930).
  • V. S. Summerhayes and C. S. Elton, Contributions to the ecology of Spitsbergen and Bear Island, J. Ecol. 11:214-286, from p. 232 (1923).
  • V. S. Summerhayes and C. S. Elton, Further contributions to the ecology of Spitzbergen, J. Ecol. 16:193-268, from p. 211 (1928).
  • V. S. Summerhayes and C. S. Elton, Further contributions to the ecology of Spitzbergen, J. Ecol. 16:193-268, from p. 217 (1928).
  • Waide RB, Reagan WB (eds) (1996) The food web of a tropical rainforest. University of Chicago Press, Chicago
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication and Perception

Flies use vision more than most insects do. They also sometimes detect the vibrations of wingbeats. Like all insects, they use their sense of smell a lot.

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Life Cycle

Development

True Flies have complete metamorphosis. Adult female flies lay eggs, and then small larvae hatch from the eggs. The larvae are often worm-like, and do not have jointed legs. They molt (shed their whole skin) several times as they grow. Then they transform into a pupa, which is a resting stage that transforms into an adult.

Development - Life Cycle: metamorphosis

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Life Expectancy

Lifespan/Longevity

Most flies live less then a year. Many fly species survive the winter only as eggs. Others survive as pupae, and a few survive as larvae or adults. Unless they hibernate, adult flies don't usually live very long, often only a month or two, and sometimes just few days or weeks. Flies usually spend most of their lives as a larva or a pupa. Flies are eaten by many predators, so very few of them live as long as they can.

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Reproduction

Mating System: monogamous ; polyandrous ; polygynous

Most female flies produce hundreds of eggs. They lay them on the food supply for their larvae. They are often very sensitive to the smell of the food, and can locate it from kilometers away.

Breeding season: Flies breed when the weather is warm enough, and there is food for their larvae.

Key Reproductive Features: semelparous ; iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous

True Flies usually don't have much parental care. The female puts her eggs in the right place, and that's it.

Parental Investment: no parental involvement

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Evolution and Systematics

Functional Adaptations

Functional adaptation

Vibration moves wings: flies
 

Wings of flies beat 1000 times a second thanks to vibrating thorax.

     
  "Flies are capable of beating their wings at speeds up to an astonishing 1000 beats a second. Some flies no longer use muscles directly attached to the bases of the wings. Instead they vibrate the whole thorax, a cylinder constructed of strong pliable chitin, making it click in and out like a bulging metal tin. The thorax is coupled to the wings by an ingenious structure at the wing base, and its contractions causes them to beat up and down." (Attenborough 1979: 80)
  Learn more about this functional adaptation.
  • Attenborough, David. 1979. Life on Earth. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Company. 319 p.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats
Specimen Records:977433
Specimens with Sequences:861916
Specimens with Barcodes:833707
Species:21262
Species With Barcodes:18302
Public Records:774647
Public Species:7211
Public BINs:57098
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Barcode data

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Conservation

Conservation Status

Very few fly species need conservation. The few that do live in rare habitats that are in danger.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Benefits

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

True Flies are the worst insect pests. Some bite us, some spoil our food, some carry diseases.

Negative Impacts: injures humans (bites or stings, carries human disease); crop pest; causes or carries domestic animal disease ; household pest

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Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The biggest benefit from flies comes from the parasitic species. They attack caterpillars, grasshoppers, and other insects that eat our food plants. Some flies also help pollinate plants that we grow. Flies are also important food source for other animals that we value, like fish.

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Flies - Pollinators on two wings

Diptera, the true flies, are an important, but neglected group of pollinators. Diptera can be distinguished from other insects by their two membranous front wings and the highly reduced halteres that represent the remnants of the second pair of wings. They are an ancient group, and were probably among the first pollinators of early flowering plants.

Many people think of flies as pests, and certainly there are many pest species. Fewer people realize the beneficial activities provided by flies, including pest control, as food for valued species such as birds and fish, as decomposers and soil conditioners, as water quality indicators, and as pollinators of many plants.

At least seventy-one of the 150 (Evenhuis et al. 2008) Diptera families include flies that feed at flowers as adults. More than 550 species of flowering plants are regularly visited by Diptera (Larson et al. 2001) that are potential pollinations. Diptera have been documented to be primary pollinators for many plant species, both wild and cultivated.

Flies live almost everywhere in terrestrial ecosystems and they are abundant in most habitats. With over 160,000 species, flies form an extremely large and diverse group, varying in mouth parts, tongue length, size and degree of pilosity. The diversity of flower-visiting flies is reflected in their effectiveness as pollinators. Some flies, such as long-tongued tabanids of South Africa, have specialized relationships with flowers, while other flies are generalists, feeding from a wide variety of flowers. In some habitats, such as the forest under-story where shrubs may produce small, inconspicuous, dioecious flowers, flies seem to be particularly important pollinators. In arctic and alpine environments, under conditions of reduced bee activity, flies are often the main pollinators of open, bowl-shaped flowers, with readily accessible pollen and nectar.

2. Why do flies visit flowers?

Flies visit flowers for a number of reasons. The most important is for food in the form of nectar and sometimes pollen. Nectar, a sugary solution, provides energy. Pollen is rich in proteins, which is required by some adult flies before they can reproduce.

Other flies visit flowers to lay eggs, and the larvae feed on the flower heads or the developing fruits and seeds. Plants with carrion flowers deceive flies into visiting and effecting pollination by providing a scent and appearance that mimics the carcasses where these types of flies normally lay their eggs. In cold, arctic and alpine habitats, some flowers attract flies by providing a warm shelter. Flies bask in the warmth, which can be more than 5 degrees C warmer than the ambient temperature (Luzar and Gottsberger 2001). This keeps their flight muscles warm, and allows them to fly at temperatures that would thwart most bees. Their movement between flowers results in pollination. Flowers can also serve as rendezvous sites for mating. Large numbers of flies will congregate at a particular type of flower, and the byproduct of their behavior can be pollination.

3. Cultivated plants pollinated by flies

More than 100 cultivated crops are regularly visited by flies and depend largely on fly pollination for abundant fruit set and see production (Ssymank at al. 2008). In addition a large number of wild relatives of food plants, numerous medicinal plants and cultivated garden plants benefit from fly pollination. Klein et al. (2007) reviewed the literature for crop pollination and concluded that 87 out of 115 leading global food crops are dependent on animal pollination. They present a table of pollinators for those crops where this information is known. For thirty crop species flies are listed as pollinators and visitors (with 14 cases referring to flower flies, Syrphidae). This result certainly underestimates the importance of fly pollination for two major reasons: first pollination studies focus mainly on bee pollination, second the literature and data on fly pollination are much more dispersed and often published in smaller journals with less complete indexing. From just my own non-systematic field data (Ssymank) we could add at least 12 crop species which are visited or partly pollinated by flower flies, such as Fagopyron esculentum (18), Mangifera indica (6), Prunus spinosa (35), and Sambucus nigra (24; number of fly species known to visit in brackets).

No chocolate without flies: For the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) fly pollination is essential for fruit production, with various levels of self-imcompatibility present in different cocoa varieties. Here very small midges of the families Ceratopogonidae and Cecidomyiidae pollinate the small white flowers emerging from the stems. In addition to these midges, Ornidia obesa (a flower fly) may visit the cocoa flowers, since it is widespread in tropical cocoa plantations and larvae live in organic waste in the moist environment.

Larger flies such as carrion and dung flies visit and pollinate pawpaw (Asimina triloba). Many Rosaceous flowers in the northern hemisphere are visited and at least partly pollinated by flower flies (Syrphidae): Apple (Malus domestica) and Pear (Pyrus communis) trees, strawberries (Fragaria vesca, F. x ananassa), Prunus species (cherries, plums, apricot and peach), Sorbus species (e.g. Rowanberry) and most of the Rubus-species (Raspberry, Blackberry, Cloudberry etc.) as well as the wild rose Rosa canina.

Flower flies are among the most important pollinating insect groups other than bees (Apidae), pollinating and visiting a number of tropical fruits such as Mango (Mangifera indica), Capsicum annuum and Piper nigrum. They also visit a number of spices and vegetable plants of the family Apiaceae like fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), caraway (Carum carvi), kitchen onions (Allium cepa), parsley (Petroselinum crispum) and carrots (Daucus carota). Most people are aware that bees are vital for the pollination of flowers. Fewer people realize that flies are second in importance to bees as pollinating insects. Compared to bees, which must provision a nest with floral food, adult flies have low energy requirements. Although this makes flies less devoted to the task of moving quickly between flowers, it also frees them to bask in flowers and remain active at low temperatures.

Conditions affecting bee populations can be quite different from those affecting fly populations due to the great difference in larval requirements. Most entomophilous flowers are visited by multiple types of insects. Since insect populations fluctuate temporally, the relative importance of a particular pollinator to a flower is likely to vary with time. Many types of flies have few hairs when compared to bees, and pollen is less likely to adhere to the body surface. But under conditions when bees are scarce, an inefficient pollinator is better than none. Higher flight activities of flies may well compensate lower pollen carrying capacity. Even in cases where honeybees are abundant on flowers and specialised bees like Megachile lapponica on Epilobium angustifolium are foraging, flower flies (Syrphidae) can be the most effective pollinators producing the highest seed set (Kühn et al. 2006).

4. Flowers flies (Syrphidae) as pollinators and in biocontrol

Flower flies (Syrphidae) represent a large family of flies with a double role in ecosystems: adults are mostly flower visitors and of high importance for pollination services, while about 40 % of the world's species have zoophagous larvae contributing to biocontrol in agriculture and forestry.

The family of flower flies has approximately 6000 named species in 200 genera worldwide. They occur in almost every terrestrial habitat, from dunes, salt marsh, heath lands, bogs, all grassland ecosystems, scrub and forest-ecosystems, from low altitudes up to glacial moraine fields. They are represented in all zoogeographic regions of the worlds. Flower flies as pollinators have a wide range of adaptations for visiting different flower types, including proboscis lengths from 1mm to almost body length (with 11 mm for example in Rhingia, Ssymank 1991), enabling them to exploit deep corollas of zygomorphic flowers. Flower flies visit large numbers of different plant species. For example in Germany more than 600 plant species are visited (Ssymank unpubl. data) and in Belgium more than 700 plant species (De Buck 1990, 1993). Regional studies in Europe (Ssymank 2001) showed that up to 80% of the regional flora may be visited by flower flies. Preferences for certain colours, flower types, flight height and phenology of simultaneously flowering plants usually ensure a high flower constancy of flower flies. With their high flight and flower-visiting activity they can be quite effective pollinators. Even long distance pollen transport is possible by migrating species like Eristalis tenax or Helophilus species. Many flower fly larvae play an important role in biocontrol. About 40% of the species have zoophagous larvae, mainly eating crop-damaging aphids. Some species, such as Episyrphus balteatus in Europe can reproduce rapidly, producing large numbers of eggs and up to five generations per year. Females can smell aphid colonies and and use olfactory cues to oviposit directly in or in the vicinity of the colonies. Provided semi-natural structures are present in a habitat, rapid population growth and effective biocontrol preventing aphid outbreaks is possible.

The life cycle of an aphidophagous flower fly like e.g. Episyrphus balteatus can be completed within only 15-20 days under optimal conditions. Eggs are laid in aphid colonies, larvae hatch immediately, first larvae mould after 1 day, the second larvae mould after 2-3 days and larval stage 3 is devouring up to 300 aphids per night until it pupates. The newly emerged adult is after a short time ready for mating and giving rise to a new generation.

5. Plant-pollinator interactions

Pollinators have a keystone function in ecosystems. Without pollination many wild plants could not reproduce and survive. Animals, too, are indirectly dependent on pollination services, as they feed on fruit or plants that would not exist without pollinators. Pollination is an ecosystem service that maintains wild plant and crop diversity, guarantees food safety and is a cornerstone of animal diversity. Flies and bees are the most important pollinator groups. Over 71 families of Diptera are known to visit and pollinate flowers, linking the fate of plants and animals. Depending on the region, the time of the day, the flowering phenology and weather conditions, flies may be the main or exclusive pollinators, or share pollination services with bees and other pollinator groups.

While some flower - pollinator relationships are highly specialised, many pollinator interactions are complex systems usually involving several pollinators. Daily and seasonal changes in pollinator communities are frequent, especially in plants with long flowering periods. Plant species with large ranges or cultivated in large areas may have a significant regional or geographical variation in pollinator communities, and the surrounding landscape with its features and habitat requisites can play an important role. Many pollinator assemblages are not well understood or even known, a fact not only true for wild plants but also for many crops and cultivated plant species.

6. Pollinator decline and research needs

Our understanding of pollination services is considerably hampered by a lack of some very basic knowledge. Although some types of fly pollinators have been well studied, as a group, fly pollination deserves far more research. It is striking how large the gaps in species knowledge are: probably less than 10% of all Diptera species are named worldwide; considerable gaps exist even in Europe, where the fauna is generally well documented. For many groups, even the existing knowledge is not easy to use, as identification keys are missing.

Pollination services of flies are underestimated and functional relations poorly understood. In the past, much pollination research has focused on bees, leaving a wide opportunity open for the study of other pollinator assemblages. A systematic look at ecosystems without bees (e.g. on some islands, in high mountains, nordic or arctic environments) could provide insight into functional replacements, and into the evolution of plant and fly adaptations. The review by Klein et al. (2007) makes it apparent that even crop plant - pollinator systems are incompletely studied. Many cases of "unknown" pollinators or order-level indications of "Diptera" indicate the need for more research.

Today, ecologists are concerned that climate change may decouple the synchrony of inter-dependent organisms. For the majority of flies, we do not have baseline phenology information. For flower flies (Syrphidae) the data are better than for many other small Diptera groups. Examples of changes in range and phenology of flower flies exist - however possible desynchronisation of flowering plants and their pollinators have not yet been studied. There is evidence of parallel pollinator and insect-pollinated plant decline for flower flies and bees in UK and NL (Biesmeijer et al. 2006). The factors threatening the species are mostly unknown. Data from other countries is largely absent. Many pollinating Diptera groups are not even assessed in Red-data-Books as no data or no fly specialists exist.

What consequences can we expect from the loss of pollinators? To what extent can any one pollinator be replaced by another? The answers to these questions are unknown and urgently need investigation. The loss of honeybees to Colony Collapse Disorder has led to severe declines of bee colonies in the U.S. Unwise application of pesticides has caused honeybee losses again and again. The loss of honeybees has not only beekeepers and ecologists, but the general public alarmed. And yet loss of natural pollinator communities may cause dramatic changes in ecosystems and biodiversity. Our current knowledge is too limited to extend to natural systems. There is an urgent need for networking among researchers, and for more fundamental and applied research toward improving our knowledge of pollination services. A new and better understanding will allow for active, effective management of pollinators for crop production and for the conservation and maintenance of biodiversity of terrestrial ecosystems worldwide.

Further suggested reading:

KEARNS, C. A. 2001. North American dipteran pollinators: assessing their value and conservation status. Conservation Ecology 5(1): 5. [online] URL: http://www.consecol.org/vol5/iss1/art5/

Special COP9-issue of Tropical Conservancy on Agrobiodiversity:

SSYMANK, A., KEARNS, C.A., PAPE, TH. & F.C. THOMSON: Pollinating Flies (Diptera): A major contribution to plant diversity and agricultural production. - Tropical Conservancy 9 (1 & 2): 86-89.

Introduction to flower flies:

GILBERT, F.S. (1986): Hoverflies. Naturalists' Handbooks. - Cambridge, 66 pp.

SCHMID, U. (1996): Auf gläsernen Schwingen. Stuttgarter Beiträge zur Naturkunde, Serie C 40: 1-81, Stuttgart. [in German]

  • BIESMEIJER, J. C., ROBERTS, S. P. M., REEMER, M., OHLEMÜLLER, R., EDWARDS, M., PEETERS, T., SCHAFFERS, A. P., POTTS, S. G., KLEUKERS, R., THOMAS, C. D., SETTELE, J., AND W. E. KUNIN, W. E. 2006. Parallel declines in pollinators and insect-pollinated plants in Britain and the Netherlands. Science 313 (5785): 351-354.
  • DE BUCK, N. 1990. Bloembezoek en bestuivingsecologie van Zweefvliegen (Diptera, Syrphidae) in het bijzonder voor Belgie. - Studiendocumenten Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. 60: 1-167, Brussels.
  • DE BUCK, N. 1993. Bloembezoek en bestuivingsecologie van zweefvliegen (Diptera, Syrphidae) in het bijzonder voor Belgie. Appendix to working document '60' of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. – unpublished, 56. pp.
  • EVENHUIS, N. L., T. PAPE, A.C. PONTAND, F.C. THOMPSON (Eds.). 2008. Biosystematic Database of World Diptera, Version 10. http://www.diptera.org/biosys.htm, accessed on 20 January 2008.
  • KLEIN, A.-M., VAISSIÈRE, B.E., CANE, J.H., STEFFAN-DEWENTER, I., CUNNINGHAM, S.A., KREMEN, C. & T. TSCHARNTKE (2007): Importance of pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops. - Proc. R. Soc. B (2007) 274, 303–313, Published online 27 October 2006.
  • KÜHN, J., A. HAMM, M. SCHINDLER, D.WITTMANN (2006): Ressourcenaufteilung zwischen der oligolektischen Blattschneiderbiene Megachile lapponica L. (Hym., Apiformes) und anderen Blütenbesuchern am schmablättrigen Weidenröschen (Epilobium angustifolium, Onagrarceae). Mitt. Dtsch. Ges. Allg. Angew. Ent., 15: 389-391.
  • LARSON, B. M. H., P. G. KEVAN AND D. W. INOUYE. 2001. Flies and flowers: The taxonomic diversity of anthophiles and pollinators. Canadian Entomologist 133(4): 439-465.
  • LUZAR, N. AND G. GOTTSBERGER 2001. Flower Heliotropism and Floral Heating of Five Alpine Plant Species and the Effect on Flower Visiting in Ranunculus montanus in the Austrian Alps. Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Feb., 2001), pp. 93-99
  • SSYMANK, A. (1991): Rüssel- und Körperlängen von Schwebfliegen (Diptera, Syrphidae) unter Berücksichtigung der Verwendung von Alkoholmaterial. – Mitt. Schweizer. Entom. Gesellschaft 64: 67 – 80.
  • SSYMANK, A. 2001. Vegetation und blütenbesuchende Insekten in der Kulturlandschaft [Vegetation and flower-visiting insects in cultivated landscapes] - Schriftenreihe Landschaftspflege und Naturschutz 64, 513 pp., Bonn-Bad Godesberg.
  • SSYMANK, A., KEARNS, C.A., PAPE, TH. & F.C. Thomson: Pollinating Flies (Diptera): A major contribution to plant diversity and agricultural production. - Tropical Conservancy 9 (1 & 2): 86-89.
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Pollinator

Dipterans are among the most common flower visitors and many are known to pollinate. Though often discounted as inefficient pollinators, some researchers have suggested that the efficiency of pollinating flies, midges, and mosquitoes exceeds that of bees in some cases. Further, dipterans appear to be crucial for the pollination of flowers in alpine habitats. In general, however, little is known about the importance of pollination by dipterans, their conservation status, how they may interact with other pollinators, and how such interactions may change if populations of sympatric pollinators decline.

Dipteran pollinators include mosquitoes, such as those of the genus Aedes, which pollinate the blunt-leaved bog orchid, Habenaria obtusata (Family: Orchidaceae), which is considered a sensitive species in parts of the northwestern United States.

Chocolate lovers may be more impressed by another example of pollination by dipterans: biting midges (or "no-see-ums") and gall midges in the Ceratopogonoidae and Cecidomyiidae families, respectively, are the only known pollinators of cacao trees, which produce the beans from which chocolate is made.

In addition to their association with cacao trees, gall midges (Contarinia spp.) form a pollination mutualism with the Malaysian tree, chempedak (Artocarpus integer), which is cultivated commercially in southeast Asia for its edible fruit. This mutualism is unusual in that it is mediated by a fungus (Choanephoraceae , Choanephora spp.). The fungus infects the tree's male inflorescences and the gall midge feeds on the fungal mycelia and oviposits on the inflorescence. When the midge larvae hatch, they feed on the mycelia and pupate in the inflorescence. Pollination occurs because the midges are also attracted to the female inflorescences, possibly due to olfactory cues.

  • North American Dipteran Pollinators: Assessing Their Value and Conservation Status, by Carol Ann Kearns (2001). (C) The Resilience Alliance. Conservation Ecology 5(1): 5
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