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Written by: Joe Keiper
Wednesday September 23, 2015

VMNH was visited by fly researcher Bill Murphy of Indianapolis, Indiana. Our curator of recent invertebrates, Dr. Kal Ivanov, hosted Bill and gave him access to the collection of hundreds of thousands of pinned insect specimens. Bill dove right into the fly collection (in our Latin classification system, flies are “Diptera” which literally translates to two-winged – flies are the only insects that support only one pair of wings).

The focus of Mr. Murphy’s work is on a family of flies known as snail-killing flies. Adults lay their eggs on or near snails and their molluscan relatives. The larvae of many species act as predators or “parasitoids” (killing their host over a period of a few days) of snails and slugs. Others scavenge on dead or dying snails, such as those trapped at a receding waterline of a pond or marsh. One genus of snail-killers deviates from these habits and the fully aquatic larvae dive into shallow water and attack fingernail clams!

Bill’s current project is to inventory the snail-killing flies of the Delmarva Peninsula. He has visited many museum and university collections to obtain the data he needs from the pinned insects, and their tiny data labels, to complete the project.  One of the smaller snail-killing flies, this species of Pherbellia had to be glued to a paper point. Note, the text on the data label pinned below the specimen is in 4-point font!

Tags: Entomology, Executive Director, Research and Collections