Diptera: The True Flies   1 comment

Wildlife, nature, fauna and flora of Costa Rica.


Photography is a very popular hobby, it has been since the invention of the first image recording apparatus started to replace portrait artists.  Initially it was beyond the scope of most people’s pockets and outside of professional realms was something of an elitist pastime.  But by the time I was growing up in the sixties many amateurs had at least moved on from a Box Brownie to a Kodak Instamatic.  Now the array of point and shoot pocket cameras is quite staggering, there is every type of model and specification to suit every level of expertise.

Many people have gone a step further and invested in a digital SLR featuring a range of interchangeable lenses allowing them to photograph in a wide variety of situations from landscapes, portraits and more specialist areas such as wildlife photography.  A sizable number of visitors to Costa Rica have spent no small sum of money on equipment to record for posterity the beauty of their surroundings and the plants and animals that thrill and delight them during their stay.  Some are more proficient than others and wildlife does not always co-operate with having its picture taken.  But given the technological development of today’s cameras it is hard not to take a good picture of whatever you aim the lens at.

For many it is a case of getting a picture of the bigger creatures such as mammals and birds, occasionally turning their attention to the more gaudily colored butterflies, pretty frogs or ever darting dragonflies.  For me though it has always been the small things.  I love photographing spiders, insects, frogs, lizards and snakes.  The majority of my work is macro photography; if it is more than six to nine inches from in front of the lens I generally won’t take a picture of it.

Everything has its own inherent aesthetic physical beauty; it’s just that until you take your time to get up close and personal you are probably not going to recognize that.  How many people would give a fly a second glance before swatting it to death?  But seen through a macro lens it takes on a different aspect, the insect almost has an expression.

Macro photography has its own set of challenging techniques, not the least of which is how to get so close to your subject.  Quite often slow, fluid movement is the essence of success, no fast, jerky moves or you will stand frustrated as that never before seen butterfly disappears.  Patience is a virtue macro photographer’s need in abundance.  If you have carefully composed your photograph perfectly in the frame and go to press the shutter, a leaf falls putting the subject to flight, just wait, it will probably come back.  When I am taking photographs of insects capable of flight, I approach them in a manner resembling some elderly Chinese gentleman doing Tai chi with a camera.

Light, you will probably need lots of light. Capturing the face of an insect at very small apertures allowing greater depth of field, means that little natural light will hit the sensor, more acutely so if you are shooting in deep forest or at night.  I normally carry with me five wireless flash units that allow me to create my own atmospheric lighting, again not easy to set this up if you are trying to capture the image of a flying insect.  But when you do get the shot, the one that reveals all the beauty hidden from the naked eye, it will give you so much satisfaction.  If you haven’t tried it, give it a go.  It is a challenge but one that is worth the result.

Flies Eyes

Insecta. Diptera. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica. Felipe del Bosque

Stunning green eyes of unidentified Diperan sp

I have a fond affinity for flies having spent two years in the ancient oak woodlands of Epping Forest, England monitoring fly populations.  They are regarded by many as, at best, little more than pests, and at worst, winged dispersers of disease, misery, death and decay.  This assertion unfortunately is correct.  Many serious diseases on a global basis are spread by dipteran vectors.  Amongst a host of others, several diseases have had, and continue to exert, an important economic influence on countries, particularly in the tropics; malaria, dengue, yellow fever and sleeping sickness to name but a few.  Mosquitoes are one of the worlds most feared and hated of creatures, being responsible for the spread of major epidemics.  It is hard to believe that something so small could have such a devastating worldwide effect.

Visitors to Cabo Matapalo quite often comment on the lack of biting insects.  Matapalo is situated at the top of a hill so all the rain is runoff, there is no standing water in which they can breed.  Breezes from the ocean and the gulf constantly blow through the grounds.  And finally there are a phenomenal number of insectivorous bats flying at night.  These three factors combine to make it a very pleasant surprise that you are not being eaten alive by midges and mosquitoes.

Insecta. Diptera. Sarcophagidae. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica. Felipe del Bosque.

Who would have thought a Flesh Fly, (Sarcophagidae sp), would have such beautiful eyes

Flies feed on liquids, all sorts of liquids, everything from nectar to blood.  They have highly developed mouthparts to aid in obtaining a meal.  Flies differ from most other flying insects in having only one pair of wings, the rear set of wings being reduced and modified into a pair of balancing organs called halteres.  The thorax of flies is much larger than other insects as it houses mega flight muscles that allow sustained and powerful flight.

But out of the countless thousands of fly species, not all of them are bad.  There are flies that act as important economic pollinators, there are flies that predate upon other flies.  Despite their terrible reputation, start to look a little more closely and you may be intrigued to find that they have bizarre and fascinating beauty all of their own.

Insecta. Diptera. Asilidae. Mallophora sp. Osa Peninsula. Costa Rica.

Heavily mustachioed face of a Robber Fly, (Mallophora sp)

Philip Davison Is a Biologist, Writer and Photographer Based in Costa Rica


One response to “Diptera: The True Flies

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  1. I suppose I’m one of those “tourists” who spend tons trying to get a souvenir photo to take home..???? HAHAHA Who cares, it’s FUN and every now and then you come home with a surprise shot you didn’t know you got!!! Loving the blog…I need to send you the shot of the dragonfly I took in my backyard. It definitely has a cool face…AND I “got” it!


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