Tour de Fly

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Published on: May. 2, 2003

Last revision: Nov. 15, 2010

scurrying with a jerky gait. They have varied life histories. Depending on the species, larvae develop in rotting organic matter, or as internal parasites of insects, other arthropods or mollusks.

Entering the bathroom, you may find a small, hairy insect clinging to the side of the basin. That would be a moth fly, family Psychodidae. Moth flies can reach staggering numbers in locations close to their typical larval habitat of sewage. The few found in the average home usually develop in the drain trap.

Your porch light at night attracts a different set of flies. Relax. Those giant mosquitoes, or daddy longlegs on wings, are harmless crane flies (family Tipulidae). Most do not even feed during their brief adult lives. The larvae, known as "leatherjackets," may be aquatic or terrestrial, depending on the species. They eat mostly decaying organic matter, though some kinds are vegetarians and a few are predators.

Also mistaken for mosquitoes are the midges (Chironomidae). Nearly identical to skeeters, midges are incredibly abundant, especially near water. Males often gather in great swarms over prominent objects. The whining of their wingbeats is annoying, but they do not bite. The larvae of most species are aquatic, feeding on microorganisms. Many species build cases of sand or debris.

Mosquitoes (Culicidae) rarely show up at lights, so bugzappers are useless. Ultrasonic devices don't repel them, either. Carbon dioxide in your breath, and other chemicals like lactic acid, draw the bloodsuckers.

Walking through the garden in daylight will introduce you to some flies that resemble wasps or bees. These flies have bold patterns of black and yellow that mimic the colors of species that predators find dangerous or distasteful.

Flies have only one pair of wings, and usually very short antennae, while wasps and bees have two sets of wings and longer antennae. Flies also have sponging or sucking mouthparts, in contrast to the chewing mandibles of stinging insects.

Taking this mimicry even further, some hover flies in the family Syrphidae even hold their front legs in a position to imitate antennae, and buzz their wings at the same frequency as their venomous counterparts. Syrphids are diverse, important pollinators of flowers, and the larvae of several species are voracious predators of aphids.

The larva of the drone fly, Eristalis tenax, is known as the rat-tailed maggot. Living in putrid waters, it breathes through a telescoping tail it stretches to the surface. The

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