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The Buzz about Flies

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Entomologist Kevin Moulton, PhD
University of Tennessee
with Specimen of New Fly Species

Unwelcome guests at picnics, painstakingly screened out of our homes, even the subject of vicious children’s poems, flies get no respect.  Some of these winged creatures we see, many others we don’t.  But scientists appreciate the beauty of Diptera’s place in the intricate web of life.  You may have heard about the scientists who recently named one species of Diptera for pop star Beyonce.

Long before this, Doctor Kevin Moulton named a species of fly he discovered for the love of his life, his beautiful wife, Susan, who has sometimes worked alongside him as a research assistant.  They found the species later to be described as Simulium meyerae in the Rio Grande on the first of many bug collecting road trip “dates.”  Moulton commented, “There are some very beautiful flies out there that rival even the nicest of butterflies.”

Dr. Kevin Moulton, PhD in North Georgia
Photo Courtesy Susan Moulton

Moulton now leads a research team of PhD candidates based at the University of Tennessee who scour the Southeast for the very creatures most people try to avoid.  He’s known as a specialist in studying Diptera, with dozens of published research works and a knack for identifying the tiniest creatures that no one has ever cataloged.  Most recently, the team discovered another new species of order Diptera and family Blephariceridae, a specific type of net-winged midge, in a stream in North Georgia.  It’s so new to science that it hasn’t even been named.  I asked Moulton why the rest of us should care about these things that his colleagues in entomology get so enthused about.

“Every insect or every organism really has a role to play ecologically,” explained Moulton, “The net-winged midges are food for other insects that are food for fishes and other things.  So it’s a chain.  They call it a food web, not a food chain, because there are more interconnections than what a chain would indicate, everything’s interrelated.  You never know what the repercussions would be if you lose a part of that web.”
New, Unnamed Species of Net-Winged Midge
at a UT Laboratory

Back in the laboratory, researchers break down the details to the very DNA of these humble, two-winged creatures. Gene sequencing creates family trees that show relationships between them.  In the case of this newest net-winged midge, adults survive for approximately two to four weeks in the spring.  The larval and pupal stages are still undiscovered, but should be present by March.

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One Response to The Buzz about Flies

  1. Day 2 Day Printing January 23, 2012 at 8:44 pm #

    This is a fascinating post. I understand that all lifer forms are important for the food but, but personally I always found winged midge’s to be creepy looking.

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