My Favorite Flies: Strongylophthalmyia

As one of the dipterists downstairs from the museum, I’ve been wanting for a while now to show off some of the more interesting flies. Maybe this will be the first of a series of posts about “My Favorite Flies” (feel free to join in, guys)?

Before I get too scientific, let’s start with a poem:

Ode to Strongylophthalmyia

Stranger beasts there are, it’s true,
Some rare and antiquated.
But I prefer the understated
Strongylophthalmyia.

One fifth an inch from tip to rear,
Much shorter than its name,
So obscure, no praise or fame
Has Strongylophthalmyia.

Awkward, gangly legs persue
A most distinctive head;
The thorax stretched, two long wings spread -
That’s Strongylophthalmyia.

You must admit it’s rather queer,
This creature from the wood,
The rarely seen, misunderstood
Strongylophthalmyia.

I first became acquainted with this family in northeastern Washington State about 7 years ago when I caught a pair of very strange, skinny flies in my net, which turned out to be Strongylophthalmyia angustipennis.  They’ve been sitting in our freezer these past years until I took pictures again recently (below).

Strongylophthalmyia angustipennis, male

Strongylophthalmyia angustipennis, female

This post started a couple weeks ago when I was looking through some malaise trap residues from the Thailand TIGER insect survey, and found three different species of the unusual genus Strongylophthalmyia, one of which had really strange antennae (below). It turns out that several southeast Asian species have projections on the third antennal segment, but this one seems to take the cake!

Weird Strongylophthalmyia from Thailand

Look at those antennae!

Another Thai Strongylophthalmyia

Strongylophthalmyiidae is the longest family name in Diptera, but the flies themselves are pretty obscure – probably few entomologists have collected them. There are now two genera, but 21 of the 22 described species belong in the original genus, Strongylophthalmyia. These flies are generally found on fallen logs, especially of aspen (Populus tremuloides).  The center of diversity appears to be in southeast Asia, where there are undoubtedly undescribed species remaining.  Strongylophthalmyiids are closely related to the equally obscure family Tanypezidae, and may even belong inside this family, according to my friend Owen Lonsdale at the Canadian National Collection of Insects.

If you’d like to read more (and I know you do), here’s some references on Strongylophthalmyia:

Barber, K. N. , Strongylophthalmyia pengellyi n. sp., a second species of Nearctic Strongylophthalmyiidae (Diptera), JESO Volume 137, 2006. pp 81–109.   (online)

Manual of Nearctic Diptera, chapter 59. (online)

Papp, L., Merz, B., & Földvári, M. 2006. Diptera of Thailand. A summary of the families and genera with references to the species representations. Acta Zoologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae 52(2) [pp. 165-172]  (online)

Diptera.info forum with photos here.


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3 Responses to “My Favorite Flies: Strongylophthalmyia”

  1. b3rtonemyia says:

    I would venture to say it is probably also the longest insect family name as well…sounds like a contest need to take place!

  2. Owen Lonsdale says:

    If I live long enough I might just get around to revising that genus and give your Thai specimen a name. Too many species, too little time… Maybe someone else out there has the time for it before I do? Gem of a group if they’re up for it!

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