Diptera

(Flies, Mosquitoes, Midges, Gnats)

Richard W. Merritt

Michigan State University

Gregory W. Courtney

Iowa State University

Joe B. Keiper

The Cleveland Museum of Natural History

The Diptera, commonly called true flies or two-winged flies, are a group of familiar insects that includes mosquitoes, black flies, midges, fruit flies, and house flies. The Diptera are among the most diverse insect orders, with approximately 124,000 described species. These insects are diverse not only in species richness but also in their structural variety, ecological habits, and economic importance. The group is ubiquitous and cosmopolitan, having successfully colonized nearly every habitat and all continents, including Antarctica. Although brachyptery (wings reduced) or aptery (wings absent) are known in some Diptera (e.g., some Mycetophilidae, Tipulidae, Phoridae, and Hippoboscidae), adults usually are winged and active fliers. Depending on the group, adults can be nonfeed-ing or feeding, with the latter including diets of blood, nectar, and other liquefied organic materials.

Larval Diptera are legless and found in a variety of terrestrial and aquatic habitats. Most larvae are free-living and crawl or swim actively in water (e.g., Simuliidae, Culicidae, Chi-ronomidae, Ptychopteridae, Blephariceridae), sediments (e.g., Tipulidae, Psychodidae, Ceratopongonidae, Tabanidae), wood (e.g., Tipulidae, Mycetophlidae), fruit (e.g., Drosophilidae, Tephritidae), or decaying organic material (e.g., Muscidae, Ephydridae, Sphaeroceridae, Sarcophagidae). Other larvae inhabit the tissues of living organisms (e.g., Oestridae, Tachinidae).

As expected for a ubiquitous group with diverse habits and habitats, the Diptera are of considerable economic importance. Pestiferous groups can have significant impacts in agriculture (e.g., Agromyzidae, Tephritidae), forestry (e.g., Cecidomyiidae), animal health (e.g., Oestridae), and human health (e.g., Culicidae, Simuliidae, Psychodidae). Other groups can be a general nuisance if present in high numbers (e.g., Muscidae, Ceratopogonidae) or because of allergic reactions to detached body hairs (e.g., Chironomidae). Despite these negative impacts, flies can play a valuable role as scavengers (e.g., Mycetophilidae, Muscidae, Calliphoridae), parasitoids and predators of other insects (e.g., Tachinidae, Empididae, Asilidae), pollinators (e.g., Syrphidae, Stratiomyiidae, Bom-byliidae), food for vertebrates (e.g., Chironomidae, Tipulidae), bioindicators of water quality (e.g., Chironomidae, Blephariceridae), and tools for scientific research (e.g., Drosophilidae).

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