Phorids do some crazy things, but my colleague John Hash has published on some that drink cyanide! Read the abstract (click here) while I persuade John to lend me a photo of these striking flies.
No, not the operating system. I’m talking about physical windows in a building. If some doors, other windows, or even the whole side of the building are open, windows can be fantastic places to collect flies. Like most dipterists, I go right to the windows of any building I am in, to see what is there. Sometimes, people look at me as if I am crazy, but I forgive them because they just don’t realize how cool flies are yet (top to bottom, a ropalomerid, stratiomyid, and tababid).
Wendy Porras and I just got back from La Selva Biological Station in Costa Rica, where half of the dining room is wide open, while the other half has screened windows throughout. We found a lot of extremely photogenic flies, some of which I show here. We put them in a more pleasing background than screening, wrangled them to sit still, and got the shots we wanted. A little honey on the leaves helped, as some flies were apparently hungry after several hours of banging their heads against metal cables.
My old friend and colleague Kevin Barber is visiting us in Los Angeles to help out with our Diptera collection and to do a little collecting. Kevin works on a family called Anthomyzidae, which are slim, long-winged flies usually associated with plants upon which they innocuously feed. Two species that he is looking for are known from Morro Bay (California), so we took him up to the Central Coast to find them.
I am happy to report that he found them both!
One is a species called Stiphrosoma vittatum with prominent stripes on its body, whereas the other is an undescribed Anthomyza species. Both were found together in a streamside forest near Cambria, CA, where the indicator plant that Kevin was seeking, Equisetum telmateia, grows abundantly (thanks to local bird expert Jim Royer who suggested the site). One more day of collecting remains, and Kevin’s goal is to collect many more specimens, especially of the Anthomyza, of which so far he found only two specimens.
Finding such otherwise unknown or poorly known species of tiny (up to 3 mm long) flies is tougher than finding a needle in a haystack: at least you know where the haystack is! I am constantly amazed at the skill and knowledge of taxonomic experts like Kevin Barber.
I know that this might be controversial; after all, people generally either don’t think flies have any redeeming qualities (never mind “beauty”), or more likely for readers of this blog, have their own ideas of what constitutes a gorgeous fly.
I submit, however, that this amazing silver male stratiomyid (soldier fly) from Costa Rica is the most beautiful fly in the world. It moves around on the underforest leaves like an animated drop of quicksilver, flashing in the tropical sun. It is not garish, like some of the gaudy calyptrates I have seen (see below), but has a pure beauty in its clean, sleek metallic cover. Just in case you find this boring, it also has a scutellum decorated with spines, like the crown of royalty.
The name of this creature is Artemita aurata (Macquart), and it was described in 1846, so it is not anything new, but it deserves “rediscovery” by lovers of biodiversity everywhere.
Don’t agree with me? Let’s hear your nominations!
Take note! Besides what is posted here, there are a couple of other active fly blogs coming from the LACM.
The ZADBI web page (tropicalflies.net) has results from our tropical inventory project.
The BIOSCAN project has a lively blog by Lisa Gonzalez about our urban bioinventory project. I hope you read and enjoy them both!
Insect photography can be demanding, time-consuming, and expensive. It can also be heavy, lugging around a big SLR camera, a couple of lenses, flash, batteries, and other equipment necessary to capture high-quality images. Often, when I am in the field, I carry a heavy backpack of camera equipment plus my collecting gear on the first day, but subsequently leave the camera at home because it is just too much stuff.
On a recent trip, miserable because of the heat of the tropics and the weight of my camera gear, I vowed I was finished with full-sized SLRs. I decided I would follow my technician Wendy Porras in moving to Olympus micro four-thirds (mft) technology. After all, these mirrorless cameras are half the weight, size, and price of a SLR, but have amazingly good image quality. The attached photo of honey bee won’t win any prizes, but you can see how sharp the images can be (an exceedingly important consideration for those of us photographing small flies). My new camera also has in-body image stabilization, which gives me a higher percentage of successful, non-blurry images.
Best of all, the camera is small enough to fit in a much smaller bag, and won’t be left behind when I need it in the field.
From now on, it is mft for me.
One of my favorite museum exhibits is the round ceiling tank at the Monterey Bay aquarium, where a huge school of silver-colored fish swim in an endless circle. It is hypnotic, fascinating, and strangely calming.
Watching flies in a mating swarm can be that way too. Usually, it is a group of male flies we see, all jockeying for the best position in the air. Presumably, this allows arriving females to recognize those that are superior and choose the male in the “best” position for the one with which they will mate.
Thinking of the Monterey Bay experience, I wanted to document a fly mating swarm, and finally got the chance this summer. A group of empid flies (also known as “dance flies”) were flying in a brilliant shaft of light against a dark conifer background, perfect for my purposes. Let me know what you think of the result!
After transferring from WordPress.com to my own site, flyobsession is back! Look forward to more stories and photos of our two-winged friends.
Pictured here is a male Adelopteromyia, a common phorid fly from the ZADBI project in Costa Rica (photo by Inna Strazhnik). The females of this genus are brachypterous (have reduced wings) and are found in army ant colonies.
ps. This image looks much better full size- click on it to see.
– bat-netting by Carl Dick got us streblid records, bird-netting by Kimball Garrett got some hippoboscids.
– Carlos de la Rosa (the Director of the La Selva Biological Station) joined the team, working on chironomid midge pupal exuviae
– Michael Turelli, professor of genetics at UC Davis and (at least on this trip) amateur drosophilid collector gave a stunning talk about using the intracellular bacterium Wohlbachia to eliminate dengue
– the final event, a barbeque, featured a short film about the week by LACM videographer Edgar Chamorro.
Some photos follow, including a group photo of nearly all participants. These photos help portray not only the enjoyment, but also the dedication of the team to document as many Zurqui flies as possible. The results of their efforts will appear soon on this website.
The 30 participants in the Zurqui all Diptera biodiversity inventory in Costa Rica have been pushing back our veil of ignorance about the fly fauna of tropical cloud forests. So far, we have spent two full days at the site (Zurqui de Moravia, 20 minutes north of San Jose), and one full day at our partner institution INBio. New species and even new genera of flies are being found everywhere we look. Some examples:
Collaborators Dr. Greg Curler and Sergio Ibanez have found a strange new type of psychodid (moth fly) that holds its wings unlike any other they have ever seen. Most moth flies hold their wings either flat over the body, or roof like over the body; this one inverts its wings over the body so that they make a trough. Significance? Who knows, but it is amazing that such a fundamentally different body form has been found. Last night, Curler hoisted some light traps up into the canopy of the forest to see what other strange things he could discover. Stay tuned for what he found.
Collaborator Dr. Wayne Mathis has been collecting for several days and has pushed our family list to 69 with this collection of diastatids (sorry, no common name), therevids, and anthomyzids, as well as boosting the list of shore flies (Ephydridae) to 26 species.
Netting bats at night has been particularly productive for inventorying bat flies. Dr. Carl Dick has added several genera and species to our list that would never have been included if we had only relied on Malaise traps and other standard insect collecting methods.
In a small raid of army ants, Anna Holden I collected some bizarre short winged phorid flies running around with the ants. These flies, genus Acontistoptera, have fully winged males that transport them in-flight among army ant colonies. We know this because the flightless females turn up in our Malaise trap samples along with their more mobile mates.
Yesterday, we spent the day in the lab at our partner institution INBio, where our collaborators could interact with our Costa Rican staff and examine some of the ZADBI material in the collection. Collaborator Dr. Jeff Skevington looked at our 34 specimens of pipunculids (big headed flies) and pronounced almost every one of them a different species! Little duplication means that there are many more new things still to find.
This is just a taste of what has transpired over the last three days; I’ll get more reports from our scientists today. Lots of ideas have been exchanged, plans made for the future, and scientific papers outlined for publication. Two days still to go!