In Costa Rica with bloodsuckers

Being in the field, it is hard to ignore the biting flies. Mosquitoes, black flies, horse flies, sand flies, and no-see-ums all make their mark. Sometimes I forget, however, that humans are not the only recipients of their unwanted attention. For example, my good friend Dr. Art Borkent studies a group of flies called the Corethrellidae, whose mosquito-like females feed on frogs and are attracted to frog calls. But Art’s main study group are the aforementioned no-see-ums, technically known as Ceratopogonidae. The many species of these minute flies have differing ways of life, as some are predators of other insects, some are misery inducing biters of vertebrates (especially on beaches, where they can clear the humans out during certain times of day), and surprisingly, some feed on the “blood” (haemolymph) of other insects.

We saw a spectacular example of this yesterday here in Costa Rica. We took a day trip to a spot called Las Minas, where we were looking (mostly unsuccessfully) for different ant-decapitating flies. While searching around, Wendy Porras, our Costa Rican colleague, found a katydid with something strange on it. Being an excellent field biologist, Wendy immediately recognized that this white, almost pea-sized attachment to the katydid’s abdomen was a swollen female ceratopogonid, full of eggs.

ceratopogonid on katydid's back

I hope Art will forgive me, but I didn’t collect the specimen. I got distracted by other things, and by the time I thought of it, the fly had already left. This is a case of bad field work on my part. Certainly when significantly unusual things are seen, they should be collected so that the specimens accompany the life history observations. Hopefully we can make up for it with even more significant observations on the phorid flies that we came here to study.

closeup of the fly

[Thanks to A. Borkent for a couple of corrections to the original post]