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.
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!
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.