Black Fly Day

29 November 2013 by Christopher Buddle, posted in Flies

It seems, today, that there is a lot of hype about Black Friday. I'm not sure why 'cause everyone should know the real event is Black Fly Day. It's a thing, especially among entomologists.  Black Fly Day is to be credited to my friend and colleague, Doug Currie: he works at the Royal Ontario Museum, studying flies in the family Simuliidae, otherwise known as Black Flies. These are infamous flies in many parts of the world, mostly because of this kind of behaviour:

Credit: D. Currie. A black fly, enjoying a meal.

For those of us who have worked in northern parts of the continent, these biting flies can be really, really annoying; finding ways to get into ears, down shirts, and up your noses. And then they bite and you bleed. However, the broader purpose of Black Fly Day is to better appreciate these flies, and recognize their beauty. For example, the larvae are incredibly important filter-feeders in moving water. These worm-like critters glue themselves to the substrate and they arch upwards, swaying their 'fans' (emerging from their head) back and forth into the moving waters.

Credit: D. Currie. SEM of a black fly larvae, showing its "fan"

The densities of larvae can be quite tremendous, which furthers the evidence about the roles that these larvae play in moving waters. "good collecting" of larvae can mean pulling a rock or log out of a stream and seeing something like this:

A lot of black fly larvae on a log, just pulled from a creek in NWT

Sure, we love to hate Black Flies, but we must recognize that all animals, charismatic or not, play important roles in our ecosystems, and sometimes we have to look past first impressions. To put things in perspective, there are over 2,000 species of Simuliidae known on the planet, yet only 41 species of Felidae (cats). Surely the internet could love Black Flies as much as cats!  We need people like Doug to study them, describe new species, and help us understand their broader distribution.  A few years ago, one of Doug's graduate students (Patrick Schaefer) took some underwater video of larvae while we were doing field work together in Yellowknife.  This provides a nice perspective on the biology of simuliidae larvae.

That footage does, in some ways, remind me of that lesser-known event called Black Friday. All those larvae packed together in one place... all those people packed into one place... (Personally, I would rather wade in some streams collecting larvae). I think we could learn a lot from Black Flies. These flies are extremely cooperative, and it should really just be about getting a bloody good meal.


Oh, and there are a couple of other Black Fly Day posts you should check out, including this one over at Wired Science, by Bug Girl, and this one by Ted MacRae

Note: to my entomologist friends and colleagues, I realize I have incorrectly capitalized the common name for the Simuliidae. This was on purpose, because Black Fly Day is THAT important.

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