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Flying with two wings

Flies and mosquitos are categorized in the insect order diptera, which refers to the fact that they have only two wings (most other insects have four).

Until I started paying attention, I never knew quite what variety of flies there are, even in my own back yard. Some of them resemble houseflies, but many are more wasp-like in appearance. Some buzz around mightily, while others are so tiny they're hard to see.

Insects, yum!

Flies' appetites vary. Some of the more interesting ones prefer to feed on their fellow insects.

This predatory fly (probably a scathophagid) was carrying around a smaller fly. Since flies don't have biting mouthparts, they can only eat liquid food. To eat its prey, it needs to dissolve it in its enzyme-rich saliva. Bon appetit.
Pennsylvania, October 2004

diogmites hanging thief robber fly

Robber flies hunt other insects for a living. This one is a hanging thief (Diogmites sp), named for the way it hangs from its forelegs while maneuvering its prey with the remaining four. I'm not sure if the wasp in the photo was its prey or just a bystander.
Pennsylvania, August 2004 Eudioctria albius: robber fly

Another robber fly, this one a good bit smaller. It is most likely Eudioctria albius. Its irridescent eyes looked like they were different colors, depending on the angle from which they were viewed.

dung fly

Yum, dung!
This golden dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria) is grooming itself with its front legs. This species occurs worldwide, laying its eggs in dung of domestic and wild animals. Adults are predatory, mostly eating other flies.

Humans, yum!

hybomitra nuda: horsefly

While wading in our swimming pond one afternoon in late spring, I was viciously attacked, not once, not twice, but three times! The villain was careful to stay behind me, out of sight, leaving me to lash out indiscriminately at the perpetrator of the cowardly onslaught. Even so, one of my defensive moves proved successful, and incapacitated my nemesis by dousing its wings with water, leaving it flightless. Using footage from my security camera, I alerted the authorities. I learned that the evildoer was well known from previous offenses: it was none other than Ms. Hybomitra Nuda, a horsefly who usually sticks to the northern parts of North America. Having been defeated by my cunning countermeasures, she retreated, and did not visit our Pennsylvania headquarters again.

Multi-faceted love

toxomerus mating syrphidae mating

These two little syrphid flowerflies (probably toxomerus geminatus) were inseparable, flying from one perch to the next one sunny day in early October.
Pennsylvania, October 2004

Tritoxa flexa: black onion flies mating

I spotted these black onion flies (Tritoxa flexa) in the curve garden on an early evening in late June. They are supposedly associated with cultivated garlic, but we don't grow any of that at the moment. Perhaps they like Egyptian walking onions too – those we have in the veggie garden.

mating eristalis arbustorum syrphid flies

Late October is still a great time to procreate, especially on a warm sunny day with a fragrant garden mum perch. While these Eristalis arbustorum are larger than the ones above, they also belong to the syrphid flies. The species is widely distributed in both North America and Europe.

mating phoridae (scuttle flies)

I found these scuttle flies (in the Phoridae family) on an early-summer evening. The family has members all around the globe, with thousands of species representing a great diversity of habitats and food sources. These ones in particular have nice big clear wings. Not commonly seen in our garden.

Tachinids and syrphids

Tachinid flies feed on flower nectar as adults, but their younger stages are parasites of other insects. This one, a featherlegged fly (Trichopoda sp.), uses true bugs as its unfortunate hosts.

wasp-striped syrphid fly

These syrphid flies, resembling small wasps, are quite abundant in the late fall, here seen visiting a Sheffield mum.

Syrphid fly: Helophilus fasciatus (female)


The patterning on this Helophilus fasciatus syrphid identifies her as a girl-fly. She's lounging on a pendent panicle of sea oats (Chasmanthius latifolium).

syrphid fly: toxomerus geminatus (male) syrphid fly: toxomerus geminatus (female)
The most abundant syrphids in our garden are these little Toxomerus geminatus flies, recognizable by the little keyhole patterns along the center of their backs. The one at left is a male, at right a female. Drone fly: Eristalis tenax?

One cool October afternoon, I spotted this fuzzy insect sleeping on the leaf of an Abelmoschus manihot. I thought for sure it was a solitary bee, but upon closer inspection (and checking at, I found out it was in fact a fly that takes on a bee-like appearance for its own evolutionary reasons: Eristalis tenax, the drone fly. Conveniently, he remained motionless as I repositioned his bed this way and that to take a few photos. Must have had a hard day going about its drone duties... Syrphid fly: Ocyptamus fuscipennis

There are syrphids in Texas too! The one pictured here, Ocyptamus fuscipennis is the first I managed to capture in action while nectaring on some scarlet sage. It's supposedly found throughout North America. So it's about time I spotted one! Texas, September 2021 oblique streaktail syrphid hoverfly: Allograpta obliqua

Presumably named for the markings on its back end that look like firy rocket streaks, this little hoverfly goes by the common name of oblique streaktail (Allograpta obliqua). It is apparently found throughout North America, and in my garden took a liking to a yellow buttercup (Turnera) flower on Christmas day.
Texas, December 2021 double-banded plushback syrphid fly: Palpada agrorum

This dandy goes by the darling name of double-banded plushback (Palpada agrorum). It is widely distributed through the Americas. This individual was resting on a columbine leaf one late afternoon, and was not at all inclined to fly away, even during my attempts at close-up photography. Texas, May 2022


greenbottle lucilia illustris

A small blowfly, probably the Lucilia illustris greenbottle. I see them around throughout the season, usually on flowers. orange-bodied blowfly

Here's another one, probably also in the Lucilia genus, just as irridescent, but with more of a bronze coloration.

And much, much more...

So many flies, most of them go without ID. Here's a sampling. brown-winged muscid fly

Many flies resemble the common housefly. Like this brown-winged gentleman, who is a member of Muscoidea, and apparently resembles Phaonia fuscana.

long-legged fly Condylostylus (dolichopodidae)

This tiny thing caught my eye because it's so shiny and colorful. A long-legged fly in the dolichopodidae family, a species of Condylostylus.

long-legged fly Condylostylus

This one, also a Condylostylus, wasn't quite as small, and more uniformly red in its metallic sheen.
Pennsylvania, August 2009

Condylostylus caudatus long-legged fly

The long-legged ones appear in Texas as well (but they're not Texas-sized – little here, too). This one is a Condylostylus caudatus (or closely related), based on its golden-green coloration and tapering waist.
Texas, May 2022 blue long-legged fly Condylostylus mundus

I particularly liked this one (a boy Condylostylus mundus), not just for its bright blue coloration (which attracted my attention from a distance, despite its diminutive size), but also for its behavior: I took a number of photos, all of the little fly sitting on the same leaf. It wasn't until I took a look at the snapshots that I realized that every time I hit the shutter button on my camera, the silly thing jumped, so that I caught it in mid-air. Which didn't make for the sharpest images, but it brought a smile to my face.
Texas, May 2022

fruit fly Strauzia

Several of these fruit flies (in the Strauzia genus) were roaming the undersides of sunflower leaves for a few weeks in early summer. I think of them as punk rock flies!
Pennsylvania, July 2005

thickheaded fly conopidae

This is a thickheaded fly from family Conopidae, most likely a species in genus Physocephala. They look like slender-waisted wasps, but their wings give them away.
Pennsylvania, July 2006

black soldier fly: Hermetia illucens

Not nearly as skittish as most flies I encounter, this black soldier fly (Hermetia illucens) was quite fond of our fig tree's leaves one October day. It mimics a wasp, which supposedly explains why it makes a loud buzzing noise – but it was mostly quiet for me. Cool green-and-purple eye pattern, don't you think?
Texas, October 2017

Bee flies

Xenox tigrinus: tiger bee fly

Bee flies are furry like bees, but their other anatomical characteristics give away their flydom. The first time I noticed one, an impressive specimen of tiger bee fly (Xenox tigrinus), it particularly attracted to me and my shirt one day in August. The attraction wasn't mutual, but he looked cool enough for me to take his picture. Since then, I've seen several more, although I don't consider them common in our garden. The one shown here was perched on the kids' swingset.

Midges and gnats

Chironomini midge

Midges are tiny little things – so small that I don't typically notice them or take their picture. I should pay closer attention, because up close they are fascinating creatures. Like this one, a male in the Chironomini tribe, with marvellously feathered antennae and gilded legs. Sciaridae: dark-winged fungus gnat

This small fly (no more than a quarter inch long - those ridges are my fingerprint lines) is one of many species of dark-winged fungus gnats, in family Sciaridae. Not sure what it was doing where I found it (on our patio table in full sun) – they typically prefer damp habitats.

Mosquitos and such

tipulidae crane fly

Looking like a huge mosquito, luckily this insect, a cranefly (Tipulidae family) doesn't bite. Like mosquitos, though, it likes moist environments, and its larvae are aquatic.

limonia rostrata crane fly

This meadow crane fly (Limonia rostrata) was quite attached to a goatsbeard flower one June evening. In the close-up, its mouth parts look quite impressive – good thing they can't bite humans.
limoniid crane fly tiger crane fly: nephrotoma wulpiana

Texas is at the eastern-most edge of this tiger cranefly (Nephrotoma wulpiana)'s range. I spotted it sitting in a fig tree one afternoon – it was still there a few hours later.
Texas, June 2017

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