Fleas are some of the oddest insects and sit in a strange position when it comes to how the public feel about them. Fleas are hated for their feeding activities and disease transmission whilst their aesthetics have long been admired thanks to mostly the works of Robert Hooke and his diagrams in Micrographia.
The illustration of a flea in Robert Hooke’s Micrographia
Hooke writes ‘the strength and beauty of this small creature, had it no other relation at all to man, would deserve a description’. Wonderfully phrased, this sentence sums up the feelings I have when looking at these small creatures.
Before the Museum exhibition about Colour and Vision closes on 6 November, I thought I should write a piece about some of nature’s most amazing eyes (their patterns and shapes). I’m talking of course about those belonging to flies – the most enigmatic of all species on the planet – and specifically all the species referred to as stalk-eyed flies.
I’m currently in Dominica, collecting insects with Operation Wallacea but this isn’t the first time I’ve been to this beautiful country. Here’s a blog post I prepared earlier about my field trip last year…
I have just finished 4 weeks of fieldwork collecting insects in Dominica. I can’t really complain about that except that the fieldwork did not follow my usual routine. Generally when employed at Museum your fieldwork is either part of a general collecting trip hoping to find as much as possible (work with Dipterists Forum); part of a research-focused group (me collecting flies from Potatoes in Peru); or part of a consultancy project (Mosquitoes in Tajikistan). However this trip was different, I wasn’t marauding around the countryside with collector’s glee, this time I had to teach as well as collect.
Collecting in Dominica definitely has its advantages…
It’s not the first time I have taught students. I lectured for a while before joining the museum and was involved in a tropical ecology field course in Costa Rica for several years. However that was university students and they were mostly master’s students who already were interested in Entomology. I had never taught or been involved with younger people – teenagers as I believe they are called. That had previously sounded like a mild form of torture! Could they concentrate? Would they even be interested?
Once more I am writing in defense of some very attractive but much-maligned creatures that, due to the maternal habits of the females, are universally disliked. People scream, run, swat them with wild abandonment to stop these ladies from providing essential resources to enable them to produce their next generation – it’s not very nice of us to let them get food for their offspring!
The Tabanidae have it… the dramatic banding of the eyes of Haematopota pluvialis
Yes, Tabanidae, or horseflies to give one of their common names, are some of the most painful biters of all flies but, like their also very much-maligned cousins, the mosquitoes, the males are vegetarian and can also be very important pollinators (e.g. Philoliche species found in South Africa – see the reference in one of my older blogs).
Within the Diptera section we are asked a lot about individual species of flies and so we thought we would put pen to paper (or key to board) and give some species descriptions of the more popular requests.
A male housefly (Musca domestica)
A female housefly (Musca domestica)
My co-author for this post, Nigel Wyatt, is the curator of all things bristly (including his own, he adds!) such as some of the most well known of all Diptera – the houseflies. Often seen as the greatest nuisance to humans and animals, this tenacious species has travelled with us all over the planet and enjoys all the creature comforts that we provide for it! Continue reading →
I’ve just recurated an entire family of flies – and in only three days! It’s not often I can do that (I have been recurating the world bee-fly collection for over three years now and it’s still ongoing), but then there were only 14 species of this family in the Museum collection. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but after all the shuffling around over the last 40 years with the taxonomy there are only 20 described species within 2 genera.
So in terms of species numbers, it’s a very small family… but in terms of individuals, they are far from small. The family I am talking about are Pantophthalmidae, and they are some of the largest flies on the planet (although I think that Mydidae can rival them). There is no real common name; they are more often than not shortened to Pantophthalmid flies, but are sometimes referred to as timber flies or giant woodflies.
And for such large creatures we know very little about them.