Brazil expedition 6 – Smoke

One of the weirdest happenings on our trip occurred on the way back to Porto Velho. As we were driving along, I saw a smoldering pile of wood and trash along the road. “Let’s stop and try for Microsania” I suggested. Everyone was hot and tired, the site was far from any good habitat, and it was about to pour rain, but Dalton good-naturedly indulged my request. I jumped out of the car, ran over to the smoking pile with a borrowed net, took a few sweeps, and beat a hasty retreat to the car (it was terribly hot from the fire), where everyone else looked at me skeptically.

Me collecting Microsania in smoke

“I got some,” I said. “Those were already in the net,” someone suggested. But no, they were “smoke flies,” species of the platypezid genus Microsania. Most were males, as they assemble mating swarms in smoke- nobody really knows why. Smoke flies are known from around the world, but remain rare in collections, only because we rarely bother to sweep in smoke! At any rate, we caught a lot of them that day.

male Microsania

This concludes my reports from Brazil. It was a productive trip, but the heat, mosquitoes, and travel made things fairly tough. Also, one member of our group got stung in the stomach by a big wasp and had to be rushed to the hospital due to a bad allergic reaction. The forest is going fast, but there are still large areas to explore and discover. I can’t wait to go back there.

Note: all specimens we collected in Brazil are deposited in the Zoology Museum of the University of Sao Paulo.

forest destruction

6 comments to Brazil expedition 6 – Smoke

  1. Nice find to get those smoke flies. Sometimes the less pristine-looking places yield the nicest surprises. Microsania collecting is a great campfire activity, and less goopy than toasting marshmallows.

    Enjoyed reading your updates from Brazil.

  2. A very nice set of blogs Brian! I’ll be back!

    Happy New Year!

  3. Jeff says:

    Fantastic pictures! Looks like a tremendous trip.

  4. “they assemble mating swarms in smoke- nobody really knows why”

    I’m a lay naturalist with pretty much zero exposure to the Microsania literature, so I don’t know whether this is a possibility that has been studied: there are a number of fungi that are triggered to fruit by fire. Perhaps these fire-dependent fungi are the preferred hosts for Microsania maggots. The fly’s quick colonization of burned areas could give them prime access to a breeding ground cleared of predators and competitors, with populations tiding themselves over between fires by reproducing on less optimal fungal hosts.

  5. […] with their legs held down, displaying their tarsal accoutrements. In another genus, Microsania, males are attracted to smoke plumes where the swarm will congregate, a behavior that is a mystery to entomologists. There is still much […]

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