One of the major pursuits in the Stireman lab right now is to assemble and analyze a phylogeny of Tachinidae of the world. If you know what tachinid flies are (i.e., awesomely diverse parasitoid flies, again I refer you to Jim O’Hara’s great tachinid pages), then you probably know that it is a difficult group to understand and identify. The family is enormous, with nearly 10,000 described species, and there is great morphological homogeneity in some groups, incredible diversity in others, and rampant homoplasy (convergences and reversals) throughout. In short, it is a group in sore need of broad-scale phylogenetic analysis and reassessment of classification. I, along with collaborators Jim O’Hara (CNC), Kevin Moulton (U. Tenn.), Pierfilippo Cerretti (U. Roma), Isaac Winkler (WSU), are setting out to do just that with the help of the larger global tachinidology community.
Cylindromyia sp., a widespread genus of wasp-like tachinids. These were found resting on roads or in washes, acting very much like wasps.
As part of our goal of reconstructing a framework phylogeny of world Tachinidae, Jim, Isaac, Pierfilippo and I traveled to South Africa in October to try to collect key and endemic taxa from the western cape region. We met acalyptrate specialist Ashley Kirk-Spriggs (S.A. National Museum, Bloemfontein) in Capetown, rented a truck, and drove all around the western cape looking for tachinids. I say “looking for”, rather than “collecting” because it was some of the most difficult tachinid collecting I have experienced. The only person that seemed to have much luck (though I doubt it was luck) was Pierfilippo, who always caught the first and most tachinids at any site we stopped at. We were lucky to have the privilege of Ashley’s company, not only because of the delicious Braai he cooked for us regularly, but also because of the big Malaise traps he brought that allowed us to collect many taxa we would not have otherwise gotten. Despite the difficult collecting, we did collect several hundred specimens including many important taxa, so the trip was a success. Perhaps our best find was several specimens of the odd tachinid Rondanioestrus apivorus, a parasitoid of adult honeybees!
View from Table Mountain National Park
I don’t have time (nor inclination) to go into a full travelogue right now. Suffice it to say that the Western Cape landscape is incredibly beautiful and its flora and fauna fascinating. Enjoy the associated photos.
Beautiful flowers (mostly Mesembryanthemaceae and Asteraceae) in Anysberg Nature Reserve (but we saw virtually no tachinids or much of anything aside from bees visiting them)
An example of the plentiful and diverse Mesemb flora
The view outside our cabin in the Gamkaskloof Nature reserve, also known as “Die Hel”. Probably our best site for tachinids and rhinophorids.
We were a bit late in the season for Proteas – but this was a nice one
A rocky slope in Anysberg with interesting plants. We did find some tachinids in this area (e.g., Pseudodinera) on our way to a hill top.
Rhinophorids (a family of isopod parasitoid, closely related to tachinids) were plentiful, although not very diverse. This one, photographed by Isaac, is missing legs we took for DNA.
Rhinophorids generally have a weakly developed subscutellum, unlike the well-developed subscutellum found in nearly all tachinids.