Peculiar Puliciphora, the Wingless Wonder

January 7, 2013

Photo credit: Inna-Marie Strazhnik

Photo credit: Inna-Marie Strazhnik By Lisa Gonzalez As the BioSCAN team gears up for more established sampling sites across the LA Basin, we are continuing to sort through the insects we have been collecting in the Nature Garden for the past year. Kelsey, one of our dedicated work-study students, was looking through a sample collected last spring when she called me over to look at a specimen that she thought looked very unusual. As soon as I peered through the microscope my heart took a small leap: I knew right away from having spent years sorting through Malaise trap catches for Dr. Brian Brown (samples that mainly came from Latin America and Southeast Asia) that this was a special kind of phorid fly, a female that matures into adulthood without ever developing wings! Aptery (a lack of wings) in female phorids is not entirely rare and has evolved multiple times in several genera, but this was the first time a wingless female in the genus Puliciphora had been collected from the Nature Garden!  Malaise traps primarily catch insects that are flying by or that have the ability to crawl up the 5 foot tall mesh screen, so it is difficult to imagine how the wingless female can make the trek to the collection bottle without knowing their incredible behaviors. Female Puliciphora spend most of their life in rotting organic material where the larvae feed on decaying plant and animal matter. When the time comes for the female to find a mate, she will “parade” around in an open space and make “vigorous abdominal pumping movements” to distribute a pheromone that will attract a mate. The fully winged males, having sensed the female’s olfactory plea, will mate and then airlift the female in copula to an oviposition site where the female can lay her eggs. This hard work on the part of the male is worth the energy expense; males that airlift the females can ensure that his genes will be carried on by helping her reach the best available site for their offspring. That is, of course, if they are not intercepted by a Malaise trap en route. References: "Alternative reproductive routines in a small fly, Puliciphora borinquenensis (Diptera: Phoridae)", P. L. MILLER

(Posted by: Emily Hartop)

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