A Taxonomist Tale by Dr Nikolas Johnston
ABRS postdoctoral fellow, School of Life Sciences, University of Technology, Sydney.
The Miltogramminae are a group of flesh flies that are known for their interesting parasitic behaviour. The females of these flies lay their larvae alive and wriggling and then deposit them into the nests of wasps and bees – kind of like the stealth bombers of the insect world. Because these flies have such specific life histories and hosts, they can be very difficult to find in nature, with some genera only being collected a handful to times.
One such genus is Aenigmetopia which is only known from around 20 specimens across Australia representing five species (four of which were described by me only two years ago). I have spent many years revising the Australian miltogrammines and spent many months in the field collecting specimens from all over Australia but have only ever collected two specimens of this species.
The work completed by the insect investigators project was able to sample a huge amount of miltogrammines including around 80% of all the species I have ever collected which is amazing considering it was only in the space of a few weeks of malaise trapping. What is more interesting is that one school in Streaky Bay Area School in SA managed to collect a male specimen of the extremely rare species Aenigmetopia fergusoni which has never been collected from SA has only been ever collected 11 times (only twice as a male).
This species is mystery, we know almost nothing about the behaviour of this genus or what its larvae feed on, maybe some of these puzzles will be solved in the future with the help of our new student entomologists!