Club Meeting: Lord of the Flies

Our Presenter: Dr. Jeff Skevington is a research scientist at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes (with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) and an Adjunct Professor at Carleton and Guelph Universities.

The Presentation:

 Including over ten percent of all described animal life on the planet it behooves us as naturalists to know a bit about flies. With 160,000 described species and over 10 times that number undescribed, flies occupy every imaginable ecological niche. The ‘bad’ flies are actually very small in number but have shaped human history and development across the planet. Malaria transmitted by flies has kept parts of Africa, the Orient and South America wild and continues to kill enormous numbers of us annually. In Canada, some areas are off limits for ranching as the stock would be killed by biting flies. But even more than the negatives, flies provide enormous economic advantages for us. Pollinator flies are second only to bees in their role in agriculture and some foods like chocolate are entirely reliant on pollinator flies. Decomposition and sewage treatment are dominated by Diptera (the scientific name for flies). I will take you on a walk through this jungle of diversity and along the way will throw out as many fascinating nature nuggets as possible about this amazing group of animals. What is that swelling on your favourite chipmunk’s groin? Why does Hollywood love flies? How many fruit flies can one female and her progeny produce in a year? What fly species provides one of the biggest tourist attractions in New Zealand? How many mosquito species are there in Canada? How long does it take for flies turn a dump truck full of oranges into compost? How about an animal carcass? What flies provide nuptial gifts to their partners (tips you won’t find on Ashley Maddison!)? How can you identify and learn more about species of animals that form such a staggering diversity? Bring any flies or photos of flies you have been curious to learn about and we will try to figure out what they are. I will even bring some pinned fly specimens from the Canadian National Collection for show and tell before and after the presentation.


Jeff has been a research scientist at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes (with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada) since 2003. He is also an adjunct professor at Carleton University and University of Guelph where he has been involved with training and mentoring over 50 of the next generation of biologists and in particular insect systematists. His research specializes on the taxonomy and phylogenetics of flies, in particular flower/hover flies (Syrphidae), big-headed flies (Pipunculidae) and thick-headed flies (Conopidae). Jeff did his training at the University of Guelph with Steve Marshall (MSc) and the University of Queensland with David Yeates (PhD). He has maintained an Australian slant to his research since his time living there. Australia is the true frontier for insect taxonomists as most of the fauna remains to be discovered and described. Jeff has published over 100 research articles, book chapters and books. Many can be downloaded from his website ( Jeff ‘s trajectory as a naturalist started with insects at a very early age, diversified into birds at age 8, and expanded to include all things natural during his undergraduate days as a park naturalist first at Algonquin and then at Pinery. Mentors in the Woodstock and St. Thomas Field-Naturalists’ Clubs had a lot to do with shaping his interests and directions but as with many naturalists, it was his experience in Algonquin that solidified his goals and his work with Steve Marshall that really turned him on to insects.