A bizarre fly

How could I have missed the website flyobsession?  It’s run by Brian V. Brown, who’s the Curator of Entomology at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, and his site is full of weird and interesting flies.

I’ve posted before on phorids—flies in the family Phoridae that are often wingless, with many so bizarre that they don’t resemble flies at all (take a look at my preceding link to see a mimetic adult phorid that looks like an ant larva). Here’s a phorid that Brown just posted on flyobsession (reproduced with his permission). It’s white, wingless, and sports a bunch of huge bristles on its back.  What could they be for?  Matthew Cobb, who passed this on to me, supposes that the fly may be parasitic, and the bristles used to adhere to a large host.  Who knows?  The small eyes and lack of coloration suggests that it lives in a dark habitat—perhaps on the fur of a mammal.

Brown’s notes on this:

. . . I am posting this photo of an extremely bizarre specimen we found just this week in material from Thailand. I think it is a female of the genus Rhynchomicropteron, but if so, it is an extremely unusual one! Thanks to Lisa Gonzalez for pointing it out to me, and Inna-Marie Strazhnik for photographing it. Maybe it can be number 16 in Terry Wheeler’s posts about why flies are great.


  1. Biedinger
    Posted March 18, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    a fly without wings you say?

    I believe it’s called a walk.

  2. Spirula
    Posted March 18, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Dear Fly,

    Mohawk. Ur doin it wrong.

    • PB
      Posted March 19, 2012 at 12:00 am | Permalink

      mohawk? oh yeah .. those bristles … got it!
      ha ha ha ..

  3. Posted March 18, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Probably lives with Leptogenys ants, like other Rhynchomicropteron. Long setae are found in many myrmecophilous insects, probably to help ward off attack.

    Brian Brown

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 19, 2012 at 1:17 am | Permalink

      Those setae are a defense from ants? Most interesting. Seems like they should then cover the body more fully, as esp. vulnerable parts of the body are not covered.

      To me, they looked as if they might be a defense against parasitic wasps, which might target abdomens for oviposition…but whadda I know? I totally cede to the expert!

  4. Posted March 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Also, note it is not wingless; it has short rounded wing stumps.

    • Achrachno
      Posted March 18, 2012 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for making these images available. If you learn more about the biology of this beast I’m sure several people here would be interested. I’ll watch your site.

      Do Rhynchomicropteron species generally live down in the ant colony? But they rely on physical defense rather than chemical mimicry?

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 19, 2012 at 1:19 am | Permalink

      But it is “haltere-less?”

      Way cool blog, BTW!

    • Diane G.
      Posted March 19, 2012 at 1:20 am | Permalink

      …and avatar!

  5. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted March 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    It’s white, wingless, and sports a bunch of huge bristles on its back. What could they be for?

    Honestly, they look like the spikes you see on street lamps to keep pigeons from perching there. So I’m with phoridae at #3: it’s a defense of some kind.

  6. Marella
    Posted March 18, 2012 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    My guess is that it lives on a mammal with pale skin and dark fur. One which searches for parasites visually, so the ‘spikes’ make it harder to find and remove.

  7. Diane G.
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 1:24 am | Permalink

    How could I have missed the website flyobsession?

    He had me at “Army ant raid of my dreams.”

  8. liskot
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 11:30 am | Permalink

    More precisely, a defense against pigeons.

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