Tag Archives: diptera

Kleptoparasitic fly stealing ant juice from jumping spider

I was photographing a spider a few days ago, and one frame that I was about to trash (jumping spider’s eyes not in focus) happened to show a kleptoparasitic fly that was drinking fluids from the captured ant. Because the fly is not especially visible I haven’t tried that hard to ID the fly (probably Milichiidae or Chloropidae), but I did find an interesting page showing a fly in Australia that was found near a salticid called an ant eater (Zenodorus orbiculatus).

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Kleptoparasitic fly on ant killed by jumping spider

If you have time to waste, here are some fun facts about kleptoparasitic flies:

  • Some species are attracted to volatiles released by captured prey (e.g., stink bugs). I have pics.
  • There are apparently some that are specialists on spiders (Brake and von Tschimhaus 2010).
  • It’s usually just females; when males present they might be looking for mating opportunities with females (Ibid.).
  • In Africa. there’s a milchiid that can induce ants to regurgitate (Wild and Brake 2009).
  • Some plants in the Apocynaceae seem to have evolved the ability to mimic the venom volatiles of paper wasps. The scent is attractive to kleptoparasitic flies because the wasps use the venom when they hunt (Heiduk et al. 2015). This is referred to as kleptomyiophily, apparently (new word for me).

If you really need to more, check out the http://www.milichiidae.info/. Sorry: the Chloropidae don’t have their own site.

I think the spider is Phidippus princeps. Happy to be told otherwise. Here are some better pics of the spider:

Colin Purrington Photography: Spiders and ticks &emdash; phidippus-princeps-eating-ant-003

Colin Purrington Photography: Spiders and ticks &emdash; phidippus-princeps-eating-ant-001

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Anthrax alert in Pennsylvania

Just in case you’re a fan of obscure diptera, I wanted to share some images of an insect I’d never seen before: Anthrax georgicus.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Anthrax georgicus

I initially identified it as Ogcodocera analis, which looks exactly alike to the untrained eye (like mine) but isn’t found in Pennsylvania. Anthrax georgicus parasitizes tiger beetles, apparently. The females lay eggs near the entrances to tiger beetle burrows and then the larvae attach to the beetle larvae and suck hemolymph. If you live near a place with dense population of tiger beetles, keep your eyes peeled for this fly. Or read about them here, in a fantastic post by Matt Pelikan. I gather they lay eggs by dive bombing.

The next photograph shows what it did in response to my flash.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Anthrax georgicus with wings spread

I searched around to see if all flies do this, but couldn’t find anything about light-induced wing spreading. I did find an article by Andrei Sourakov on the startle response of a long-legged fly, again caused by a flash — they exhibit a tumbling escape behavior (see paper for pics). In a separate paper, Sourakov discusses the startle response of skippers (Hesperiidae) — again, I highly recommend taking a look at the figures so you can see the insects during their escape tumbles. In hindsight, I should have played around with flash sync speed to see if I could measure how quickly it could spread its wings. The shutter speed I was using was 1/200 second.

Just in case I’m completely wrong about the ID (which I based on this page) and you’re an expert with a moment to spare, I put a better view of a wing at the bottom. The posterior margin of the alula looks convex. I don’t have a better view of the antennae, unfortunately, which I know would be helpful for Bombyllidae. As a side note, insects that are jet black but have shiny white parts are a complete pain to photograph.

Anthrax georgicus wing close-up

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Kleptoparasitic flies

Here are a few photographs of kleptoparasitic flies stealing hemolymph from a praying mantis dining on a pentatomid. They might be Milichiella arcuata or M. lacteipennis, types of jackal flies, but those are just guesses. Jackal flies (Milichiidae) and frit flies (Chloropidae) are commonly found on dead insects, but the volatiles released by dismembered true bugs are apparently especially attractive (see Zhang and Aldrich 2004). And if you search online for images of jackal flies, they also seem to be common on dead or dying honeybees, so presumably bees exude a volatile that is attractive to flies as well. I’d love to find an article that times the arrival of various kleptoparasitic flies at different types of insects … could use the assemblages to give approximate time of death, I’m sure, just like on CSI. I don’t watch CSI, so I’m guessing here as well.

If you want to know more about jackal flies, I highly recommend Irina Brake‘s “Milichiidae online“, and this post on Ted MacRae’s blog.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; kleptoparasitic-flies-on-hemipteran-2

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; kleptoparasitic-flies-on-hemipteran-1-2

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; kleptoparasitic-flies-on-hemipteran-3

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; kleptoparasitic-fly-with-hemolymph

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Using mosquitoes’ sweet tooth to control Zika transmission

Now that everyone wants to kill mosquitoes that transmit Zika virus, can somebody please make a transgenic plant that expresses mosquitocidal Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis subsp. israelensis) toxins? Just stick the Bti gene behind a phloem-specific promoter so that the protein gets pumped into the nectar. Then when males and female mosquitoes drink (and almost all do), they die. You could then plant acres of the modified plant nearby towns to protect people from Zika (and anything else transmitted by mosquitoes). The beauty of this method is that you could reduce populations of mosquitoes from an area without spraying, and do so for generations if you modified nectar-producing perennials. I know it’s trendy to dislike GMOs (like vaccines), but I think many people would support them under these circumstances.

And yes, apparently Bti toxins can kill adult mosquitoes (including Aedes aegypti), not just larvae. Klowden and Bulla 1984 demonstrated it, for example. And yes, Aedes aegypti drinks nectar (and probably fruit juice).

Of course, even if somebody had the incentive to make such a plant, it could take a decade to wade through the red tape involved in getting non-regulated status from governments. So if you want to do something today, leave out containers of sugar water (10%) that is laced with Bti (e.g., Mosquito Dunks, which you can buy online or at hardware stores). Maybe add something floral to attract them, too. (A review of olfactory cues suggests that imitation cherry and apple can work. If you don’t have those sitting around, I’d wager a few drops of jasmine flavoring or rose water would work, and those are easily found at local stores.) Even if the Bti doesn’t immediately kill the adult, adults sucking up a big sugar meal can transfer the bacteria to water where they lay eggs, and thus eventually cause the death of any larvae that develop. Note that bees and ants might get interested in your sugar water, but the Bti is completely harmless to them.

And if you don’t want to use Bti, there are plenty of articles on using sugar baits laced with insecticides (e.g., Qualis et al. 2013, Junilla et al. 2015). They really can work: mosquitoes absolutely love sugar and will drink up poisons in the process. These are great if you don’t want to use crop dusters to destroy all insects in the area.

If you have kids and want to entertain them, add food dyes to the sugar bait and then challenge them to find mosquitoes with bellies full of sugar water. For older kids that might be amused by actual science, use two dyes to test attractiveness of two different volatiles (or different sugars). It’s probably rare to recapture one right after a nectar meal, but when distended they reveal gut contents nicely.

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; White-footed woods mosquito (Psorophora ferox) nectaring on goldenrod

FYI, the photograph above is a white-footed woods mosquito (Psorophora ferox), not Aedes aegypti. It doesn’t transmit Zika, but illustrates to the unbelieving that mosquitoes drink nectar. 

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Golden-backed snipe fly

This golden-backed snipe fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus) landed in one of my bird baths and drifted around for a few minutes on the surface tension. I’m not positive, but I think I’ve seen them do this in past years, too. I wonder whether they are looking for mosquito larvae, or perhaps adults. These flies have predaceous mouthparts, so they clearly hunt something. Sure wish somebody would PCR the gut contents of these things and let me know. Anyone ever seen them take something down?

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Golden-backed snipe fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus)

Here’s another one, albeit one with a damaged eye:

Colin Purrington Photography: Insects &emdash; Golden-backed snipe fly (Chrysopilus thoracicus) with dented eye

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