Phorid Flies of Los Angeles County Print

Phorid Flies web.jpg
Phorid Flies web.jpg

Phorid Flies of Los Angeles County Print


11x14 giclée print on textured watercolor paper.

If you live in L.A. or Oregon and want to arrange a pickup, write to me at

At first glance, it might be hard to tell what this illustration is about. That’s because the subject is the tiny Phorid Fly (also known as the scuttlefly). It is one of the most ubiquitous creatures that you have never heard of. There are about 100 species of phorids in Los Angeles, and they made the news recently for one reason: one persistent researcher at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles identified 40 new species of the fly. Meaning, 40 species that had never before been catalogued - simply because no one had ever noticed them before!

Phorids are found all over the world, and they hold an astounding variety of ecological niches. One species, the corpse fly, burrows through the ground to lay their eggs in decomposing corpses (that may be a gross image, but as we know, creatures like this are essential to the cycle of growth and decomposition that moves nutrients throughout our ecosystems). Many species are parasites that lay their eggs in creatures like ants and bees. Still others simply eat flower nectar, or rotting plants, or fungi.

The phorids were discovered through a study put on by the NHMLA that recruited citizen scientists to catalog the insect biodiversity of the city. Volunteers hosted a type of trap called a Malaise Trap (basically a tent with a jar of alcohol at the top) in their backyards, or on the tops of buildings, or in school playgrounds. Insects fly into the tent and become trapped, falling into the jar of alcohol, which then allows researchers to document the presence of different species in different areas. Emily Hartop, entomological researcher, started noticing that she kept coming across specimens of phorid flies that she couldn’t identify. She started to examine them and realized she was seeing unidentified species. She started to catalog them, and the number of new species grew to forty! (Interesting side note - the flies are distinguished mainly by the shape of their genitals, so Emily’s published scientific paper includes forty hand-drawn fly genitals).

The story of the phorid flies strikes an unusually hopeful note in the sea of negative news we receive daily about the destruction of our environment. While species are being destroyed all the time, all of the sudden we find out that there are new ones living right under our noses in the urban center! They are a powerful reminder to us to pay attention to urban environments as living ecosystems. The biodiversity of the city is much, much more than humans and their pets - and what ecosystem is more important than the one that we actually live in?

A huge thank you to Emily Hartop, the talented and persistent entomologist who sorted through 40,000 individual flies to discover and catalog these new species, and was kind enough to meet with me and share her knowledge and passion for phorids.

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