True flies are insects of the order Diptera, the name being derived from the Greek di = two, and ptera = wings. Insects of this order use only a single pair of wings to fly, the hindwings being reduced to club-like balancing organs known as halteres. Diptera is a large order containing an estimated 1,000,000 species including horse-flies, crane flies, hoverflies and others, although only about 150,000 species have been described.
Flies have a mobile head, with a pair of large compound eyes, and mouthparts designed for piercing and sucking (mosquitoes, black flies and robber flies), or for lapping and sucking in the other groups.
Diptera is one of the major insect orders and are of considerable ecological and human importance. Flies are important pollinators, second only to the bees and their Hymenopteran relatives. Flies may have been among the evolutionarily earliest pollinators responsible for early plant pollination. Fruit flies are used as model organisms in research, but less benignly, mosquitoes are vectors for malaria, dengue, West Nile fever, yellow fever, encephalitis, and other infectious diseases, and houseflies spread food-borne illnesses. Flies can be annoyances especially in some parts of the world where they can occur in large numbers, buzzing and settling on the skin or eyes to bite or seek fluids. Larger flies such as tsetse fly and screwworm cause significant economic harm to cattle. Blowfly larvae, known as gentles, and other dipteran larvae, known more generally as maggots, are used as fishing bait and as food for carnivorous animals. They are used in medicine in debridement to clean wounds.
Taxonomy and phylogeny
Dipterans are Endopterygota, insects that undergo radical metamorphosis. They belong to the Mecopterida, alongside the Mecoptera, Siphonaptera, Lepidoptera and Trichoptera. The possession of a single pair of wings distinguishes most true flies from other insects with "fly" in their names. However, some true flies such as Hippoboscidae (louse flies) have become secondarily wingless.
All the insects groups included are from the infraclass Neoptera, which can flex their wings over the abdomen, so it does not include members of the Palaeoptera which cannot flex their wings in this way and includes dragonflies, damselflies and mayflies. This cladogram represents the current consensus view.
The first true dipterans known are from the Middle Triassic (around 240 million years ago), and they became widespread during the Middle and Late Triassic. Modern flowering plants did not appear until the Cretaceous (around 140 million years ago), so the original dipterans must have had a different source of nutrition other than nectar. Based on the attraction of many modern fly groups to shiny droplets, it has been suggested that they may have fed on honeydew produced by sap-sucking bugs which were abundant at the time, and dipteran mouthparts are well-adapted to softening and lapping up the crusted residues. The basal clades in the Diptera include the Deuterophlebiidae and the enigmatic Nymphomyiidae. Three episodes of evolutionary radiation are thought to have occurred based on the fossil record. Many new species of lower Diptera developed in the Triassic, about 220 million years ago. Many lower Brachycera appeared in the Jurassic, some 180 million years ago. A third radiation took place among the Schizophora at the start of the Paleogene, 66 million years ago.
The phylogenetic position of Diptera has been controversial.
Diptera were traditionally broken down into two suborders, Nematocera and Brachycera, distinguished by the differences in antennae. The Nematocera are recognized by their elongated bodies and many-segmented, often feathery antennae as represented by mosquitoes and crane flies. The Brachycera have rounder bodies and much shorter antennae. Subsequent studies have identified the Nematocera as being non-monophyletic with modern phylogenies placing the Brachycera within grades of groups formerly placed in the Nematocera. The construction of a phylogenetic tree has been the subject of ongoing research. The following cladogram is based on the FLYTREE project.
Abbreviations used in the cladogram:
Flies are often abundant and are found in almost all terrestrial habitats in the world apart from Antarctica.
Brachycera are ecologically very diverse, with many being predatory at the larval stage and some being parasitic.
The greatest diversity of gall forming insects are found among the flies, principally in the family Cecidomyiidae (gall midges).
The larvae of Megaselia scalaris (Phoridae) are almost omnivorous and consume such substances as paint and shoe polish. The larvae of the shore flies (Ephydridae) and some Chironomidae survive in extreme environments including glaciers (Diamesa sp., Chironomidae ), hot springs, geysers, saline pools, sulphur pools, septic tanks and even crude oil (Helaeomyia petrolei ). Adult hoverflies (Syrphidae) are well known for their mimicry and the larvae adopt diverse lifestyles including being inquiline scavengers inside the nests of social insects. Some brachycerans are agricultural pests, some bite animals and humans and suck their blood, and some transmit diseases.
Anatomy and morphology
Flies are adapted for aerial movement and typically have short and streamlined bodies.
Flies have a mobile head with a pair of large compound eyes on the sides of the head, and in most species, three small ocelli on the top. The compound eyes may be close together or widely separated, and in some instances are divided into a dorsal region and a ventral region, perhaps to assist in swarming behaviour. The antennae are well-developed but variable, being thread-like, feathery or comb-like in the different families. The mouthparts are adapted for piercing and sucking, as in the black flies, mosquitoes and robber flies, and for lapping and sucking as in many other groups. Female horse-flies use knife-like mandibles and maxillae to make a cross-shaped incision in the host's skin and then lap up the blood that flows. The gut includes large diverticulae, allowing the insect to store small quantities of liquid after a meal.
For visual course control, flies'optic flow field is analyzed by a set of motion-sensitive neurons. A subset of these neurons is thought to be involved in using the optic flow to estimate the parameters of self-motion, such as yaw, roll, and sideward translation. Other neurons are thought to be involved in analyzing the content of the visual scene itself, such as separating figures from the ground using motion parallax. The H1 neuron is responsible for detecting horizontal motion across the entire visual field of the fly, allowing the fly to generate and guide stabilizing motor corrections midflight with respect to yaw. The ocelli are concerned in the detection of changes in light intensity, enabling the fly to react swiftly to the approach of an object.
Like other insects, flies have chemoreceptors that detect smell and taste, and mechanoreceptors that respond to touch. The third segments of the antennae and the maxillary palps bear the main olfactory receptors, while the gustatory receptors are in the labium, pharynx, feet, wing margins and female genitalia, enabling flies to taste their food by walking on it. The taste receptors in females at the tip of the abdomen receive information on the suitability of a site for ovipositing. Flies that feed on blood have special sensory structures that can detect infrared emissions, and use them to home in on their hosts, and many blood-sucking flies can detect the raised concentration of carbon dioxide that occurs near large animals. Some tachinid flies (Ormiinae) which are parasitoids of bush crickets, have sound receptors to help them locate their singing hosts.
Diptera have one pair of fore wings on the mesothorax and a pair of halteres, or reduced hind wings, on the metathorax. A further adaptation for flight is the reduction in number of the neural ganglia, and concentration of nerve tissue in the thorax, a feature that is most extreme in the highly derived Muscomorpha infraorder. Some species of flies are exceptional in that they are secondarily flightless. The only other order of insects bearing a single pair of true, functional wings, in addition to any form of halteres, are the Strepsiptera. In contrast to the flies, the Strepsiptera bear their halteres on the mesothorax and their flight wings on the metathorax. Each of the fly's six legs has a typical insect structure of coxa, trochanter, femur, tibia and tarsus, with the tarsus in most instances being subdivided into five tarsomeres. At the tip of the limb is a pair of claws, and between these are cushion-like structures known as pulvilli which provide adhesion.
The abdomen shows considerable variability among members of the order.
Flies are capable of great manoeuvrability during flight due to the presence of the halteres.
Flies tend to fly in a straight line then make a rapid change in direction before continuing on a different straight path.
Flies have rapid reflexes that aid their escape from predators but their sustained flight speeds are low.
Although most flies live and fly close to the ground, a few are known to fly at heights and a few like Oscinella (Chloropidae) are known to be dispersed by winds at altitudes of up to 2000 ft and over long distances. Some hover flies like Metasyrphus corollae have been known to undertake long flights in response to aphid population spurts.
Males of fly species such as Cuterebra , many hover flies, bee flies (Bombyliidae) and fruit flies (Tephritidae) maintain territories within which they engage in aerial pursuit to drive away intruding males and other species. While these territories may be held by individual males, some species form leks with many males aggregating in displays. Some flies maintain an airspace and still others form dense swarms that maintain a stationary location with respect to landmarks. Many flies mate in flight while swarming.
Life cycle and development
Diptera go through a complete metamorphosis with four distinct life stages - egg, larva, pupa and adult.
Some other anatomical distinction exists between the larvae of the Nematocera and the Brachycera. Especially in the Brachycera, little demarcation is seen between the thorax and abdomen, though the demarcation may be visible in many Nematocera, such as mosquitoes; in the Brachycera, the head of the larva is not clearly distinguishable from the rest of the body, and few, if any, sclerites are present. Informally, such brachyceran larvae are called maggots, but the term is not technical and often applied indifferently to fly larvae or insect larvae in general. The eyes and antennae of brachyceran larvae are reduced or absent, and the abdomen also lacks appendages such as cerci. This lack of features is an adaptation to food such as carrion, decaying detritus, or host tissues surrounding endoparasites. Nematoceran larvae generally have well-developed eyes and antennae, while those of Brachyceran larvae are reduced or modified.
Dipteran larvae have no jointed, "true legs", but some dipteran larvae, such as species of Simuliidae, Tabanidae and Vermileonidae, have prolegs adapted to hold onto a substrate in flowing water, host tissues or prey. The majority of dipterans are oviparous and lay batches of eggs, but some species are ovoviviparous, where the larvae starting development inside the eggs before they hatch or viviparous, the larvae hatching and maturing in the body of the mother before being externally deposited. These are found especially in groups that have larvae dependent on food sources that are short-lived or are accessible for brief periods. This is widespread in some families such as the Sarcophagidae. In Hylemya strigosa (Anthomyiidae) the larva moults to the second instar before hatching, and in Termitoxenia (Phoridae) females have incubation pouches, and a full developed third instar larva is deposited by the adult and it almost immediately pupates with no freely feeding larval stage. The tsetse fly (as well as other Glossinidae, Hippoboscidae, Nycteribidae and Streblidae) exhibits adenotrophic viviparity; a single fertilised egg is retained in the oviduct and the developing larva feeds on glandular secretions. When fully grown, the female finds a spot with soft soil and the larva works its way out of the oviduct, buries itself and pupates. Some flies like Lundstroemia parthenogenetica (Chironomidae) reproduce by thelytokous parthenogenesis while some gall midges have larvae that can produce eggs (paedogenesis).
The pupae take various forms. In some groups, particularly the Nematocera, the pupa is intermediate between the larval and adult form; these pupae are described as "obtect", having the future appendages visible as structures that adhere to the pupal body. The outer surface of the pupa may be leathery and bear spines, respiratory features or locomotory paddles. In other groups, described as "coarctate", the appendages are not visible. In these, the outer surface is a puparium, formed from the last larval skin, and the actual pupa is concealed within. When the adult insect is ready to emerge from this tough, desiccation-resistant capsule, it inflates a balloon-like structure on its head, and forces its way out.
The adult stage is usually short, its function only to mate and lay eggs.
As ubiquitous insects, dipterans play an important role at various trophic levels both as consumers and as prey. In some groups the larvae complete their development without feeding, and in others the adults do not feed. The larvae can be herbivores, scavengers, decomposers, predators or parasites, with the consumption of decaying organic matter being one of the most prevalent feeding behaviours. The fruit or detritus is consumed along with the associated micro-organisms, a sieve-like filter in the pharynx being used to concentrate the particles, while flesh-eating larvae have mouth-hooks to help shred their food. The larvae of some groups feed on or in the living tissues of plants and fungi, and some of these are serious pests of agricultural crops. Some aquatic larvae consume the films of algae that form underwater on rocks and plants. Many of the parasitoid larvae grow inside and eventually kill other arthropods, while parasitic larvae may attack vertebrate hosts.
Whereas many dipteran larvae are aquatic or live in enclosed terrestrial locations, the majority of adults live above ground and are capable of flight.
Flies are eaten by other animals at all stages of their development.
Flies play a variety of symbolic roles in different cultures.
Flies have appeared in literature since at least the time of Ancient Greece. The Ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus has a gadfly pursue and torment Io, a maiden associated with the moon, watched constantly by the eyes of the herdsman Argus, associated with all the stars: "Io: Ah! Hah! Again the prick, the stab of gadfly-sting! O earth, earth, hide, the hollow shape—Argus—that evil thing—the hundred-eyed." William Shakespeare, inspired by Aeschylus, has Tom o'Bedlam in King Lear , "Whom the foul fiend hath led through fire and through flame, through ford and whirlpool, o'er bog and quagmire", driven mad by the constant pursuit. In Antony and Cleopatra , Shakespeare similarly likens Cleopatra's hasty departure from the Actium battlefield to that of a cow chased by a gadfly. More recently, in 1962 the biologist Vincent Dethier wrote To Know a Fly, introducing the general reader to the behaviour and physiology of the fly.
Flies appear in popular culture in concepts such as fly-on-the-wall documentary-making in film and television production. The metaphoric name suggests that events are seen candidly, as a fly might see them. Flies have inspired the design of miniature flying robots. Stephen Spielberg's 1993 film Jurassic Park relied on the idea that DNA could be preserved in the stomach contents of a blood-sucking fly fossilised in amber, though the mechanism has been discounted by scientists.
Dipterans are an important group of insects and have a considerable impact on the environment.
Many dipterans serve roles that are useful to humans.
Drosophila melanogaster , a fruit fly, has long been used as a model organism in research because of the ease with which it can be bred and reared in the laboratory, its small genome, and the fact that many of its genes have counterparts in higher eukaryotes. A large number of genetic studies have been undertaken based on this species; these have had a profound impact on the study of gene expression, gene regulatory mechanisms and mutation. Other studies have investigated physiology, microbial pathogenesis and development among other research topics. The studies on dipteran relationships by Willi Hennig helped in the development of cladistics, techniques that he applied to morphological characters but now adapted for use with molecular sequences in phylogenetics.
Maggots found on corpses are useful to forensic entomologists. Maggot species can be identified by their anatomical features and by matching their DNA. Maggots of different species of flies visit corpses and carcases at fairly well-defined times after the death of the victim, and so do their predators, such as beetles in the family Histeridae. Thus, the presence or absence of particular species provides evidence for the time since death, and sometimes other details such as the place of death, when species are confined to particular habitats such as woodland.
Some species of maggots such as blowfly larvae (gentles) and bluebottle larvae (casters) are bred commercially; they are sold as bait in angling, and as food for carnivorous animals (kept as pets, in zoos, or for research) such as some mammals, fishes, reptiles, and birds It has been suggested that fly larvae could be used at a large scale as food for farmed chickens, pigs, and fish. However, consumers are opposed to the inclusion of insects in their food, and the use of insects in animal feed remains illegal in areas such as the European Union.
Fly larvae can be used as a biomedical tool for wound care and treatment. Maggot debridement therapy (MDT) is the use of blow fly larvae to remove the dead tissue from wounds, most commonly being amputations. Historically, this has been used for centuries, both intentional and unintentional, on battlefields and in early hospital settings. Removing the dead tissue promotes cell growth and healthy wound healing. The larvae also have biochemical properties such as antibacterial activity found in their secretions as they feed. These medicinal maggots are a safe and effective treatment for chronic wounds.
The Sardinian cheese casu marzu is exposed to flies known as cheese skippers such as Piophila casei , members of the family Piophilidae. The digestive activities of the fly larvae soften the cheese and modify the aroma as part of the process of maturation. At one time European Union authorities banned sale of the cheese and it was becoming hard to find, but the ban has been lifted on the grounds that the cheese is a traditional local product made by traditional methods.