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Don’t Take Flies for Granted

May 6, 2021 by Matt Pelikan
GOlden Dung Fly, Scathophaga stercoraria

Golden Dung Fly, Scathophaga stercoraria

Flies — the order Diptera — tend to be either ignored or reviled by humans. But this diverse group of insects, with about 17,000 known species in North America, is of enormous ecological importance. Many flies serve as pollinators; many others are predators or parasites that help keep other insect population in balance. (Epalpus signifer, pictured at the bottom left, is one fly that carries out both of those functions, its larvae parasitizing cutworm caterpillars and adults visiting a variety of early-season wildflowers for pollen or nectar).

Scathophaga stercoraria

Scathophaga stercoraria

Fly larvae help break down dead organisms and recycle the nutrients they contain. And surprisingly, flies can be exquisitely beautiful, like the golden dung fly (Scathophaga stercoraria) shown above. This group does, to be sure, have some problematic members: mosquitoes, for example, which are both annoyances and vectors of multiple serious diseases, are flies. But flies also perform useful services for humans and are a critical part of the ecological systems that surround us.

As part of its new Martha’s Vineyard Atlas of Life project, BiodiversityWorks is working to catalog the Island’s fly diversity and study the relationships among flies and other organisms. You can contribute your sightings of flies or any other type of wildlife to the Vineyard Atlas of Life by creating an account on and posting your wildlife photos from Martha’s Vineyard (they will automatically be added to the Atlas project). And even without joining the iNaturalist community, you can explore records added to the Atlas so far by visiting the Martha’s Vineyard Atlas of Life project here.


Interested in learning more about flies? We’ve recorded two webinars on these important insects. One, presented by University of Cincinnati professor Stephan Pelikan, discusses the basics of fly taxonomy and ecology. Another, presented by MVAL program director Matt Pelikan, gives an overview of the fly diversity of Martha’s Vineyard.

Matt Pelikan is the director of the Martha’s Vineyard Atlas of Life project at BiodiversityWorks.