Welcome to 'Things that Make you go Nope', an ongoing series inspired to bring out the nopetopus in you. Last time around we hit on the Dung Beetles that somehow made eating poo into the less disturbing option. . . let's see if the flies can top them.
By and large diptera is primarily known by a tiny percentage of it's 240,000 species. We're all familiar with mosquitoes. House flies and fruit flies are as ubiquitous as their namesakes. Horse flies, hover flies, bee flies, bot flies, and terrible hairy flies are evidence that they get thought of a lot when naming flying insects comes to mind. Except for terrible hairy flies, since they don't fly.
There are also things that aren't diptera but are insects that have 'fly' in their name, like dragonfly and twisted winged fly and superfly. They also are indeed awesome but not the flies we're talking about.
If you want to know if you're dealing with diptera or not, look really close. If there are only two wings, and two funny little knobs . . . then it's probably one of the guys we're talking about. Or it's one of those twisties in which case GET US VIDEOS!!!
If it doesn't and it stings the hell out out of your face it's likely a wasp. You probably figured that out already.
Anyway. . . with no more ado and no further gilding of the lily. . . time to nope.
If you've been hanging round here at all you're familiar with bot flies. I could start there, but they're so . . .common. They're almost pedestrian at this point.
Similarly, terrible hairy flies. . while indeed hairy. . really aren't that terrible. They're kind of like bat-fleas. (not that kind, get that song out of your head). They're more like. . . slightly annoying furry walks. They're really badly named.
Even phorid flies with their delightful ant-decapitating powers have spread through the blogosphere like zombies and everybody has an article about them these days.
So how do I horrify you guys?
I have an idea! Let's start with parasitism, everybody loves that sort of thing, right?
So. . . wasps in general, they've got this whole parasitoid thing nailed, but how many of you knew they had competition among the insects? Would you have suspected ordinary looking flies?
Sure, it's arguable that the wasp was pretty horrible with the whole 'I'm just going to paralyze you and bury you with my unborn child' bit . . . but you've got to admit dropping your babies off at the lip of the pit and sending them to dig down as fast as possible to eat the wasp's baby (and food) is pretty creative.
That's right. They weaponized their babies.
Tachinid flies are every bit as disturbing as their waspy counterparts. They never mastered the zinc-tipped ovipositor that can drill several inches into wood in search of grubs, so some of them did the next best thing. . they turned their larvae into mobsters.
For some reason in the science world they call weaponized babies 'Planidium' . . . which honestly is not nearly cool enough a word for what they are. Instead of smushy little maggots they have hardcore little baby tank acrobats. A lot of insects have evolved them . . . and every time they have they use them in awful, awful ways (perhaps we'll discuss the wrongness that is blister beetle in another article)
So. . . how else can diptera be wrong for us?
Well, they can murder the hell out of things for starters!
You know how dragonflies are ultimate aerial predators? Go look around online, it's hard to find an article about dragonflies that doesn't marvel at how they're peerless hunters among the flying bugosphere. They've been honing their skills since pretty much the dawn of flight. Heck, they're called dragon flies. . .you don't called that if you get beat up by damselflies all the time.
Meet the new kid.
Asilidae, or robber flies, have only been around 110 million years to the dragonfly's 325 million. They may not have had quite as much time to perfect their craft but they certainly put a few new spins on the old body plan.
If you want to read about the joy of robber flies, you can't go wrong with two excellent blogs. . . Bogleech and Real Monstrosties . . they are delightful (and just wait until you hit the rest of their articles!)
Now, if you did go there and read (you really should have!) you've got to be wondering if there's anything more to add? Those guys set the bar really high.
Ask and nature provides!
I've seen robber flies in action, and they're absolutely merciless and frighteningly agile. I saw a fat bee-mimic one pounce on a similarly sized dragonfly just as it was nabbing a katydid. . . and then it ate the katydid. I saw another apparently teleport into a hanging cage around a bee and it just hung there by one leg nomming away. . . looking at me without blinking.
At least it didn't blink, that would have completely freaked me out . . . but if there was ever an insect that decided it had enough in its toolbox that it could spare some time to evolve an eyelid for a compound eye, it'd probably be these guys.
Videos of actual kills are hard to find. . . they tend to kind of casually meander around something pretending that they're not looking at you (I'm not sure how convincing that part is) and then they suddenly do this random looking change in direction faster than the eye can follow By the time you catch them again they are in the middle of their meal wondering why it took you so long to find them.
Here what you occasionally see when one doesn't just jab a hole in something's brain right off
So yeah, those legs aren't just there for decoration, they're serious muscle. And they have mustaches (yes), that's all kinds of cool, especially since they're used defensively (there's a joke in there). But what else do they have? They just kind of manhandle things.
You know that funny smushy pad thing that regular flies use to eat? Well, it turns out that it's really hard to kill a dragonfly by licking them (don't try this). The robber fly has evolved something better suited to to penetrating dragonfly armor and hummingbird skulls.
On 6 September 2007, as he was in his study at work on the next Sunday sermon, Buren was distracted by a ruckus outside the house. The sound came from two rooms away and through an open screen door that led to the backyard patio where many of Luanne's container plants flourish. Buren said the clamor reminded him of a baby whimpering, so he alerted Luanne and they both rushed outside. It turns out the noise was being made by an adult male Ruby-throated Hummingbird, whose bright red gorget the Blankenships could clearly see because the bird was on its back—pinned down to the patio floor by a large insect!
Instinctively, Luanne grabbed the vocal but helpless hummer and swatted off the insect, which she instantly stomped into the concrete. As the hummingbird sat in her hand, Luanne and Buren could see there was a hole in the plumage on top of the bird's head. Other than that, the hummer seemed none the worse for wear and soon zipped way to a nearby tree.
Just give that a moment to sink in
It was trying to kill a hummingbird by drilling a hole through its skull. . . and it was succeeding.
We're lucky that we're way bigger than they are, because it takes a lot to scare them.
I'll try to round things out with a different sort of wrongness.
With a name like that, how could you go wrong?
Okay, so that's not what I was thinking either. I was thinking some Kaiju thing, but that might have been colored by the robber flies. Microdon would have been a great name for the weaponized baby acrobat tanks though, right? Again. . . badly named, science people!
Back to the. . . whatever that thing is. For reasons that I bet you could guess, it, it took a while to figure out what these guys were. They just hung out in ant nests eating them and/or their babies. . . not like that's weird or anything. It's pretty safe to assume that 'fly' wasn't the first thing to come to mind. It personifies the opposite of flight.
It wasn't until they saw it metamorphose into an ordinary looking hoverfly that they were even sure it was a insect and not some weird slug or ant-eating tribble or something. Even then I'm pretty sure they had to check several more times.
After all, for all they knew it was parasitized itself. Perhaps there's a fly that lays an egg that's so small it's designed to be eaten . . . and then the egg hatches and devours the creature from within.
Meet zenillia dolosa
Females lay microtype eggs containing a first instar larva on food plants of the host and then the eggs must be ingested by the host for parasitization
That's right. They went there.
Aren't you glad you're not an arthropod?
(Except for you, Steve! Represent!)