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The Flies Have It: Getting to know your winged friends

One of seven species of parasitic Gymnosomid flies, this one the red-butted variety.Flies are everywhere and no matter what your station is in life,



One of seven species of parasitic Gymnosomid flies, this one the red-butted variety.Flies are everywhere and no matter what your station is in life, no matter where you go or what you do, you will bump into a fly doing something you don't understand or like, therefore, never, Oh, Best Beloved, take a fly for granted.

In the event you're not yet hooked into this little essay, here's a few things to think about when it comes to flies: First, they are the only insects that have only one pair of wings, all the others have two. To make up for the missing two wings, flies possess balancers, known as halteres, which are actually gyroscopes. Instead of having a centrifugal gyroscope to keep it stable in flight, the fly has an oscillating gyroscope. Didn't know that did you...?

Gnats are flies. Birds and bats eat gnats by the krijillions. Without gnats, a whole lot of birds and bats would go hungry. Some gnats look like mosquitoes, while others have such charming names, as: "love bugs," "moth flies," "march flies," scuttle flies," and so on. There are also "kissing bugs."

The most common fly we are all familiar with is the so-called "housefly." Houseflies touch everybody and everything. Their mouth is like a sponge, literally, and they spend their entire adult lifetime sticking their nose into everyone's food, garbage, poop and business, and the majority of these flies begin life as a maggot eating something dead. Mom was right; wash your hands!

From a "maggot," they eventually change into the "adult" stage, a process known as "complete metamorphosis," the three stages of insect life. However, there are few flies in which the female hatches her eggs inside and then places her little darling maggots exactly where she wants them, like in a dead body. Some female flies, however, hatch their eggs inside their bodies. The fully developed fly is then "born"-no metamorphosis necessary.

Crane flies are huge, and falsely known as "giant mosquitoes," "daddy long-legs," and "gully nippers." Most crane fly maggots spend their life in the soil eating the roots of plants, and some take up to four years to become adults, while some crane fly larva are cannibalistic predators and eat other crane fly larva.

Among the midges are the infernal "black flies," and "no-see-ums," those pesky little suckers that really bite! "Sucker" is a literal term, they poke their proboscis into one's tender skin, leaving their saliva behind that itches like all get out.

And then there's another fly, the infamous mosquito. Everyone knows what mosquitoes have done to the human race over time, but if you want to read about the man who tamed the spread of malaria by mosquitoes (the only way that dreaded disease can be transmitted), look up Dr. Charles A. R. Campbell and his "bat towers." He became a millionaire building towers all over Texas to house bats that ate mosquitoes which in turn eliminated malaria and left behind bat guano (manure). Dr. Campbell sold the guano for fertilizer, and wrote a book about it entitled, Bats, Mosquitoes and Dollars.

"Deer flies" and "horse flies" are also fierce biters. If they were the size of hawks they'd suck us dry in minutes. There are over 100 known species of horse flies in the Genus Tabanus, one of which is the species, americanus that comes with a blue abdomen. Guess where the song, "Blue-tailed Fly" came from?

There are "soldier flies, "snipe flies," "small-headed flies," and "robber flies." Robber flies are the F-16 fighter jets of the

Out here in the West, we have a wonderful selection of "flower-loving" flies. They are drawn to flowers like bees to honey. And speaking of bees, there's a whole passel "of bee flies" as well. They look like bees, fly like bees and feed in flowers like bees, but do not have pollen baskets, and can't sting. The males are territorial, and some of them actually patrol a piece of sky around their favorite flower patch.

One of my fondest memories of being out in the wild with my oldest son, Dean, is giving him my macro camera outfit and carrying him around on my shoulders as he tried to get photos of a flower fly hovering in its territorial airspace. "A little left, to the right..., that's it, no... go forward, now back up a little..." he'd whisper (as if the fly could hear him). All the time I could hear the old Pentax motor-drive going like a machine gun-and that was back in the days of film when we didn't have the marvelous "delete" function on digital cameras of today.

It's in the flower flies and wasp mimics that you find the "surphid flies," the larva of which are aphid-eaters from the word go, a boon to gardeners everywhere. The adults look like inflated wasps. It is here that I get to preach my sermon. We should really know the Good Guys from the Bad Guys, and understand what happens when we use chemical warfare.

There are also yellow-jacket mimics that look so much like the real thing they scare your pants off, you just know you're going to be stung. Then there's the Bot flies; they are miserable things that burrow under the skin of cows, horse, dogs, cats and other warm-blooded animals.

The tachnid flies, like the one pictured above, are parasites on other insects, especially butterflies and moths. Many a butterfly going into the chrysalis stage never becomes an adult because a tachnid fly has laid its eggs inside the caterpillar, and that's all she wrote for that unlucky insect. The tachnid pictured above is a specialist, parasitizing stink bugs.

The list of how flies occupy a particular niche in the world of nature is long and complex. For anyone thinking of a career in the world of living things, there is enough missing information regarding flies to keep one busy for a lifetime, and the chances of getting one named after you is more than possible-but it might be a "stink bug."

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