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image of Trichopoda pennipes, a Tachinid fly (photo by K.Darrow)
Trichopoda pennipes (Tachinidae) (photo by K.Darrow)

The Diptera Collection at the National Museum of Natural History (USNM), Washington, is one the finest in the World. The collection comprises more than 8,059 drawers of pinned material, 8,538 boxes of slide-mounted specimens, and 325 vial-units of specimens in alcohol.

Although there is material from all faunal regions, the Nearctic region and the New World in general are represented best. In all families, there are good synoptic series of the genera and species; but only in a few areas are there long or complete series for most of the included taxa.

Toxomerus marginatus (Syrphid fly) (photo by K.Darrow)

Crane Fly (Limoniidae) (photo by K.Darrow)
Among the nematocerous Diptera, four groups are particularly well represented: the crane flies, mosquitoes, biting midges, and gall midges. The crane fly collection is unsurpassed by any in the world, as the Smithsonian has recently acquired the C. P. Alexander Collection: probably the greatest private collection of flies ever made. More than 11,000 of the 14,000 known species of crane flies are represented in this collection by type specimens, 8,000 of which are holotypes.

The Department has long served as the world center for mosquito research. In the early 1900's pioneering work was done on the collection and culminated in a four volume publication of The Mosquitoes of North and Central America and the West Indies, (1912-17). In 1964, the Smithsonian contracted with the U. S. Army Medical Research and Development Command, to study the mosquitoes of Southeast Asia.
Aedes albopictus, the Asian Tiger Mosquito [image by S. Ellis,]
This was continued until 1974 when a new contract was initiated for the Medical Entomology Project. These 2 projects have accessioned more than 250,000 specimens and have described over 100 new species of mosquitoes. The Mosquito Collection counts more than 300,000 specimens including 1,200 primary types. []

Mydas clavatus (photo by K.Darrow)The brachycerous Diptera are best represented by 3 families: the Bombyliidae, Asilidae, and Empididae.

The R. H. Painter Collection of Nearctic bee flies is particularly rich in material from the southwestern U. S. and Mexico. The Bromley Collection of robber flies along with that of A. E. Pritchard makes the USNM holdings of these predaceous flies outstanding. A. L. Melander was one of the two world specialists on Empididae and his collection brought to the USNM one of the most extensive collections of these flies in existence.

Of the cyclorrhaphous Diptera, the acalyptrate families are all well represented. Due to the strong and continuing interest of the USDA in fruit flies (Tephritidae), the USNM holding of these flies one of the finest. The Sciomyzidae, snail-killing flies, are likewise well represented and the Ephydridae, or shore flies, also deserve particular note for the strong cosmopolitan collection built by W. W. Wirth.

Holdings of Tachinidae, Sarcophagidae, and Calliphoridae stand out among the calyptrate flies, although most of the families of this group are well represented. Most of the leading New World specialists on tachinid flies have worked with and left their collections to the USNM. This series of specialists began with D. W. Coquillett, who first monographed the Nearctic tachinids in 1897, and continued with C. H. T. Townsend, J. M. Aldrich, C. W. Sabrosky and now with N. E. Woodley. Many other tachinid workers have augmented the collection by adding their types to it. The USDA purchase of the N. Baranov Collection in 1960 added much tachinid and sarcophagid material from the Old World. Thus the USNM collection of Tachinidae is unusually valuable. The collections of Sarcophagidae and Calliphoridae are also exemplary due to the contributions of such specialists as J. M. Aldrich,
D. G. Hall, H. W. Allen, and H. de Souza Lopes.

As the number of scientific positions associated with the Diptera Collection has been reduced, from a high of 14 scientists in the 1970's to the current 5, the dipterists have sought new and different ways of maintaining the National Diptera Collection. Portions of the collection have been loaned in total to specialists on a long-term basis. The Bombyliidae now reside at the Bishop Museum, Honolulu, under the care of Neal Evenhuis and the Phoridae at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, Los Angeles, under the care of Brian Brown.

The dipterists at Washington are dedicated to insuring the best care for their collections as well as access to them so that our knowledge of may increase and be of use to all. A small endowment fund, the S. W. Williston Diptera Research Fund, has been established to provide additional resources for these goals. Proposals are considered annually in January, so please submit them before the 1st of December. Donations as well as inquiries about support are always welcome. More information about this fund can also be found on the Asiloid Flies web site under the Williston Fund tab.

Content by F. Christian Thompson
Please send questions and comments to Torsten Dikow

Last updated November 2014

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