About 100 000 species of Diptera have been described worldwide; the actual number may be double that. Over 7000 species have been reported in Canada, a figure also estimated to represent only half the species present. Their relative abundance in the insect fauna increases northwards; in the most extreme arctic localities, they outnumber all other winged insects, both as species and as individuals. Flies range in size from 1 mm to 5.5 cm.
The most obvious characteristic distinguishing true flies from other insects is the modification of the hind wings into knob-shaped gyroscopic organs (halteres), essential for maintaining balance in flight. These structures allow flies to perform outstanding feats of aerobatics (eg, landing upside-down on ceilings).
Adult flies have sucking or piercing mouth parts and lack the mandibles with which other insects bite food.
It is thought that adult flies were, primitively, predators of other insects, using their mouth parts to pierce prey's integument (body covering) and that the habit of sucking vertebrate blood evolved from this. Many modern flies, including voracious predators such as robber flies and dance flies, still attack only other insects. Most predatory flies feed on carbohydrates, eg, honeydew and nectar, as well as on animal prey. Some flies have abandoned predation and use pollen (hover flies) or decaying material (house flies) as their protein source. Adult warble and bot flies do not feed, relying on fat reserves accumulated in the larval stage.
Reproduction and Development
Dipteran larvae are legless. Most are maggots living concealed within a moist substrate, but some hoverflies have free-living larvae, which prey on APHIDS. Specialized swimming larvae have evolved in mosquitoes and related groups of nonbiting midges. Most fly larvae feed on micro-organisms or decaying matter. A few are predatory or parasitic: larvae of marsh flies (sciomyzids) kill snails; those of horse flies (tabanids), robber flies (asilids) and dance flies (empidids) prey on other insect larvae; those of tachinids (parasitic flies) are specialized internal parasites, important in biological control of INSECT PESTS.
Although few groups of flies have evolved exclusively plant-eating larvae (notably fruit flies, gall midges and leaf-mining flies), those that have are unusually diverse and actively evolving. Among aquatic larvae, those of nonbiting midges form a major part of the INVERTEBRATE biomass in Canadian waters.
Interaction with Humans
The enlarged salivary glands of many Diptera contain giant chromosomes convenient for genetic studies. This trait, and their willingness to breed in bottles, make Drosophila a popular experimental animal.
Author G.C.D. GRIFFITHS
Links to Other Sites
Canadian Biodiversity Website
A great information source for all budding biologists. Learn about biodiversity theory, natural history, and conservation issues. From McGill’s Redpath Museum.
An extensively illustrated guide to wildlife species found in British Columbia. Covers bats, birds, beetles, bugs and much more. Also features an insect glossary and notes about invasive species. A biogeographic initiative of the Lab for Advanced Spatial Analysis, Department of Geography, UBC.
The Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes
This website provides information about the scope and contents of the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes. Check the “Index” link for illustrated descriptions of various taxonomic groups.
University of Alberta's E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum
Check out images and information about insect specimens found in the University of Alberta's E.H. Strickland Entomological Museum, one of the most significant insect collections in Canada.
An online guide to benthic invertebrates found in or on the bottom sediments of rivers, streams, and lakes in Ontario and other regions of Canada. From ecospark.ca
Aquatic Invertebrates of Alberta Online Textbook
An online guide to all major groups of Alberta's aquatic invertebrates. Offers illustrated details of the natural history of each group as well as tips on collecting and preserving specimens. A University of Alberta website.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...