Mantis Fly

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Robber fly (Laphria canis) showing white, club-shaped haltere
Courtesy of Patrick Coin, via Flickr: EOL Images, CC-BY-NC-SA

About Flies (Order Diptera): Locomotion

The reason that flies (mosquitoes, horseflies, gnats, etc.) are so hard to catch is their unique wing structure. Most insects have four wings in two pairs. Flies use just their front pair for powering flight. Their back wings have evolved into little, club-shaped structures (halteres). The halteres help stabilize the fly by acting as tiny gyroscopes. If the fly changes its direction or orientation, the vibration of the halteres resists the change, sending information to sense organs at the base of each haltere. The sense organs provide feedback to the muscles that are controlling the wings, allowing for rapid adjustments during flight. The front wings are doing their part too, flapping as fast as 1,000 times per second. A fly has a bulging chest (thorax) to contain the powerful flight muscles. Some flies are even faster, thanks to an adaptation that gets their whole thorax vibrating to power the wings.

Honeybee (Apis mellifera) on a mountain mint plant
Courtesy of John Baker, via Flickr: EOL Images, CC-BY


About Insects (Class Insecta): Biodiversity

Insects are by far the most diverse and abundant group of organisms on Earth. More than one million insect species have been identified, and estimates of how many species exist range into the tens of millions. Insects got their start way back, in the Paleozoic (about 500 million years ago) and have evolved in tandem with flowers (coevolution). Insects have become specialized on particular flowers, leading to complex sets of adaptations that couple them in a feeding and pollination relationship (a mutualism). Specialization allows for many types of insects to live in the same habitat, accommodating their exceptional biodiversity. In a backyard in the temperate zone, one might find several thousand species of insects. Specialization can occur within one plant species as well, with different insects using different parts of the plant. In just one species of tropical tree, Dr. Terry Erwin of Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History found about a thousand species of beetles.