taxonomy and ethology
of robber flies
About Laphriini Blog
This blog is intended as an
adjunct to my Laphriini Pages, a website devoted to a tribe of robber flies
(Diptera: Asilidae), known as the Laphriini. The tribe includes two described
genera in North America--Laphria Meigen and Lampria Macquart.
Many years ago for my Ph.D. I divided Laphria into four groups of
generic rank, of which I revised two for my dissertation, and partially revised
one of the remaining two. I never published the revisions for the two groups I
revised, and over the years have sporadically worked toward completing the
revision for the group I almost finished (I know this doesn't sound like I've
done much work post-PhD. but I've probably put in about a year full-time since I
graduated on everything together, including two three-month stretches I spent
working around-the-clock between jobs trying to finish; I think that's a lot,
everything considered). The purpose of my Laphriini Pages is to make this
material available to the general public, as the covered species include many
large showy flies which should interest collectors and other amateur Dipterists.
Also included is a review of the fourth group, which I did not touch for my
PhD., and initiated after graduating. This incomplete review is the only
material currently posted. The purpose of the blog is to keep the
Dipterological community informed of the progress of my on-going revision and
review, comment on the process, and generally interact with the taxonomic and
ethological communities at large.
July 25, 2015 -- New Laphriini References
I added three refernces (Reichardt
(1929), Hardy and Preece
(1927), and Linsley (1961)) to
the Annotated Bibliography today. All three are quite old; but two were
new to me. Reichardt (1929)
was something I had, and while working on my PhD. had read and
found indispensible, but for some reason had forgotten to add both to
the Literature Cited in my dissertation, and to the Annotated
Bibliography here when I began this site. The other two citations
are apparently new to the asilid literature indices; they are not
mentioned in Hull
(1962) or in any of Lavigne's three
literature updates (Lavigne (1999), Lavigne, Dennis, and
Gowen (1978), and Ghahari, Lavigne,
and Geller-Grimm (2007)). The full citations for the three papers
Reichardt, H. 1929. Untersuchungen über den Genitalapparat der
Asiliden. Zeitschr. wiss. Zool. 135:257-301 (In
German; with detailed description of . . .
August 10, 2014 -- Miscellaneous Updates and Some New Photos
Since January I've made a lot of small changes in the setup of the Laphriini
Pages that I've been meaning to document. Most are ongoing parts of more
extensive changes that haven't yet been fully implemented. For example, I plan
to fix any reference in the bibliography that has an on-line PDF or HTML
version, to show a link to that version. With this, my bibliography will become
a "one-stop-shop" for North American Laphriini literature. You will be able to
look at the title, look at the annotation if there is one, or look at the
original article or book, if it is on-line. I've added links for 59 of the 211
references. Many of the links are to page readers for large depositories like
Biodiversity Heritage Library and HathiTrust. Others are to on-line PDFs. When
I've added a link, I've also made it a point to annotate the reference, if it
wasn't annotated already.
The references that now have links to a PDF or HTML version of the original article are:
Baker and Fischer (1975)
Barnes, Lavers, and Raney (2007)
Canden, Suludere, Hasbenli, Cagiran, Lavigne, and Scarbrough (2004)
Cole and Lovett (1921)
Dennis and Lavigne (1976)
Lavigne, Barr, and Stephens (2001)
McAtee and Banks (1920)
Nagatomi and Nagatomi (1989)
As another example, I plan to fix most of the photographs so that you can
click on them to get the original, usually much larger version. This linked
photo will . . . (read more)
January 15, 2014 -- Another Annotation
I annotated one reference in the Bibliography that was already there, namely
Brimley (1938). This is one I've been
meaning to get to for a long time. The complete annotated citation is:
Brimley, C. S. 1938. The Insects of North
Carolina, being a list of the insects of North Carolina and their close relatives.
N. C. Dep. Agric., Div. Entomol., 560 pp. (p. 338,
B.[ombomima] affinis Mcq., B. champlainii
Walton, B. cinerea Back, B. divisor Bks.,
B. flavicollis Say, B. grossa Fab., B.
posticata Say, B. sacrator Wlk., B.
thoracica Fab., B. virginica Bks.; L.[ampria]
bicolor Wied., L. rubriventris Mcq.,
L. sp. (near rubriventris but abdomen black); L.[aphria]
aktis McAtee, L. saffrana Fab.,
L. scorpio McAtee, L. sericea Say, L.
As with most of the faunal lists in the Bibliography this one lists localities and a date
range for each species. At some point I am . . .
January 5, 2014 -- A Lone Reference to
Herald in the New Year
I added one annotated reference to the bibliography, namely
Snyder (1957). The complete
Snyder, K. D. 1957. Check list of insects of Great
Smoky Mountains National Park. Privately printed. Montreat College, Montreat,
NC, 78 pp. (p. 38, Bombomina (Dasyllis)
champlainii Walton, B. divisor Bks., B.
flavicollis Say, B. grossa Fab., B.
sacrator Wlk., Laphria canis Will, L. sericea
I've also uncovered a few other references but haven't . . .
December 7, 2013 -- More References
I added seven annotated references to the bibliography, namely
Weiss (1915), and
Young (1910). The complete
Felt, E. P. 1910. Insect types in New York
State Museum, pp. 119-122 IN 25th Report of the State Entomologist
1909. Education Dept. Bull. 475 (New York State Mus. Bull.
141), pp. 5-178 (p. 120, Dasyllis cinerea
Greene, G. M. 1910. Feldman collecting social.
Entomol. News 21:430-431 (p. 430, Dasyllus
[sic] champlaini Walton).
Nicolay, A. S. 1919. Additions to Insects of New
Jersey No. 7. Entomol. News 30:276-279 (p. 278,
Dasyllis cinerea Back).
Wandolleck, C. 1905. Diptera für 1904.
Archiv für Naturgeschichte. 1905(2):787-823 (p. 813,
Dasyllis cinerea n. sp., D. fernaldi
n. sp. ... Back; this is a catalog of all the new Diptera described
Washburn, F. L. 1905. Diptera of Minnesota. Two-winged flies affecting
the farm, garden, stock and household. Minn. Agr. Expt. Sta. Ann. Rpt.
(1904-1905) 13:19-168, Figs. 4-163, 2 pls. (p. 87, Dasyllis
thoracica, Fab. [also Fig. 79], Laphria sericea, Say [also Plate II,
Fig. 21], and Dasyllis sacrator, Walk. [also Plate II, Fig. 10]).
Weiss, H. B. 1915. Additions to Insects of New
Jersey. Entomol. News 26:101-107 (p. 106,
Dasyllis champlaini Walton).
Young, D. B. 1910. Additional list of
Adirondack insects, pp. 123-125 IN 25th Report of the State
Entomologist 1909. Education Dept. Bull. 475 (New York State
Mus. Bull. 141), pp. 5-178 (p. 124, Dasyllis
sacrator Walk., Laphria sericea Say).
I also annotated two additional citations . . .
November 23, 2013 -- Two More References
I added two annotated references to the bibliography, namely
Beutenmueller (1904) and
Johnson (1913). The complete references are:
Beutenmüller, W. 1904. The types of
Diptera in the collection of the American Museum of Natural History. Bull.
Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. 20:87-89 (p. 88, Laphria
astur O. S.).
Johnson, C.W. 1913. Insects of Florida. I.
Diptera. Bull. Amer. Mus. Nat. Hist. 32(3): 37-90
(p. 61, Dasyllis grossa Fabr. (D. tergissa Say),
Dasyllis lata, Dasyllis posticata Say, Laphria
I also annotated two additional citations that were already present, namely . . .
October 26, 2013 -- Miscellaneous Updates
It's been a while since I last posted. During the interim I've made a number of small
changes and additions. I had intended to list them all in one go, here, once they reached a
"critical mass." Problem is, I didn't write them down, thinking that each was too insignificant
to warrant picking up a pencil. Now when I want to list them I can only remember a few.
First, I replaced a number of habitus photographs with hopefully better versions. I replaced
the original blurry analog photo of the female of Laphria flavicollis with a stacked
digital version. I also replaced the stacked photos I had for both male and female of
Laphria sacrator with new stacked photos having better, more diffuse lighting.
Second, I added several annotated references to the bibliography, namely
Dennis and Barnes (2013) and
Cannings (2010). The complete references are:
Dennis, D. S., and J. K. Barnes. 2013.
Pupal cases of four Nearctic species of Laphria (Diptera: Asilidae).
Zootaxa 3681(4):478-492. (L. canis,
L. ferox, L. macquarti, and L.
posticata; key provided to pupal cases of 11 species (including listed
four) of Laphria s. lat. Generic key also provided to
distinguish pupal caes of Laphria s. lat. from those of
Andrenosoma and Lampria [note: Lampria is in the
Laphriini, Andrenosoma. . . . (read
June 2, 2013 -- Flies Around the House
I ran a Malaise trap at my log house continuously from this
last Friday, May 31, through today, Sunday, June 2. This was the second
time I had run it this Spring--the weekend two weeks ago being the
first. Compared to last year I got started later this one--this
has been a much colder and more delayed Spring than normal.
The reason I am posting is that I caught a male
of Laphria sacrator. I've never taken this species
here before, although I knew it was present in western Pennsylvania. I
also caught a female Laphria flavicollis and a male
Laphria aktis. This brings to eight the species of
Laphriini I have nabbed just out back of my house over the 14 years I
have lived there. They are:
These eight species were all taken within an area encomapssing
a circle about 50 feet in diamter, in either a Malaise trap,
or individually on a pile of firewood. This firewood
was originally stacked in a row alongside and somewhat removed from
my house. Over the years I've let it rot to attract insects rather
than use it in my fireplace.
Six of these eight species will also eventually be placed in
other genera; however, . . . (read
May 13, 2013 -- More Literature
I added nine literature citations to the Bibliography. This nine is a miscellany; only two--Franklin (1912) and Free and Butler (1959)--directly mention North American Laphriini in North America, and the latter is a citation and not an original observation. The full citations for these two references are:
Franklin, H. J. 1912. The Bombidae of the
New World. Trans. Amer. Entomol. Soc. 39:177-486
(pp. 238, Dasyllis thoracica Fabricius, D. affinis
Macquart, D. tergissa (var.), and D. flavicollis
Say all resemble Bombus impatiens and Psithyrus laboriosus,
and all are found within the ranges of these two bee species; Dasyllis sacrator
Walker resembles Bombus vagans and B. perplexus and is found
within the ranges of these two bee species in the northeastern United States and
southeastern Canada; Dasyllis astur O. S. resembles Bombus californiens
and B. vosnesenskii and it ranges with those species in the Pacific
Coast States; last, Dasyllis posticata Say resembles Bombus fervidus
females and both are distributed widely; pp. 237-239; discusses Batesian and aggressive
mimicry of bumble bees by robber flies and syrphids.).
Free, J. B. and G. C. Butler. 1959. Bumble
Bees. Collins, St. James Place, London.
(The New Naturalist series; pp. 81-82, Dasyllis grossa).
Perris (1871), and
--mention the Holarctic species Choerades gilvus in . . . (read more
May 4, 2013 -- Yet Another Literature
I added another literature citation,
This reference isn't really new to me; it's something I've had a
copy of for a long time. I just hadn't read it until
this week. Yet as far as I can tell it is one that has never
been mentioned in any of the various asilid
bibliographies. It was published in the Biological Bulletin; I seem
to remember that that journal may consist of translations of
papers that were first published in Russian. The paper itself is
notable for species-name misspellings as well as for
one species for which the name is
completely wrong (Dasyllis dithoracica). The main emphasis
is on color convergence between bumblebees and flies in
the syrphid genus Volucella. The way in
which the thoracic and abdominal patterns are diagrammed
for both flies and bees is instructive
and possibly eventually can serve as a model for
an updated analysis of color
patterns within Laphria s. str. The
full reference is:
Gabritschevsky, E. 1926. Convergence
of coloration between
American pilose flies and bumblebees (Bombus). Biol.
Bull.. 51(4):269-886.(Divides American
Laphria [Dasyllis at the time] and
Bombus into three pattern groups, the first consisting of
species in the eastern United States, the second also of eastern
species, and the third of species in the Rockies
(referred to as the Colorado area); p. 273, the first
group, consisting of . . . (read more
March 19, 2013 -- Another Literature
It's a truism that the more that is happening, the less that is recorded.
It's been that way with me at least for the last several months. In that time, I've
figured out how to make distribution maps with a free package, Quantum
GIS, that look as nice as the maps I've made at work with ArcGIS
(I've been wanting an affordable package for mapping at home for years). And
I got myself setup with Corel Draw, Corel Painter, and
AutoDesk SketchBookPro to make line drawings and paintings directly using
a computer, second monitor, and 12x12 Wacom drawing tablet. And last, I finally
settled on an easy-to-use-and-modify database for documenting and annotating my asilid
collection, called Small Museum Organizer Pro. I'll post something about each
of these later. For now, though, I'm just going to mention a new literature
citation for Laphria sacrator in Michican, namely Hancock (1911). The full reference
Hancock, J. L. 1911. Nature Sketches in Temperate
America. xviii + 451 pp., Chapter IV. Mimicry, with Examples (frontispiece of entire book; also p. 127-129, 131 [in subchapter titled
The Bumblebee's Mimic], Dasyllis sacrata [sic]. The model
is stated to be Bombus consimilis, and the observations were made at
Lakeside, Berrien County, Michigan. Several types of prey are also listed.).
Throughout the book . . . (read more
November 18, 2012 -- Removing an
Unwanted Photo Background
You may have wondered how I've managed to clean up the
backgrounds so completely in some of my habitus photos, such
as the three for Laphria grossa,
here. The following is the method
I use. Now before anyone says anything I need to acknowledge five
things 1) There may be better ways to do this in Adobe Photoshop; I
have an older version, 5.5.; but since I can get the latest of GIMP free hardy use it any more, 2)
Many of my older photos are extremely crappy -- it obviously does
not apply to them, 3) Many of my newer photos, for which
I have used this technique, are also
extremly crappy, 4) So far at least I haven't used the
technique everywhere I could or probably should have, and last, 5) I
obviously still have a lot to learn about photo processing.
The GIMP is free software; the acronym
stands for "GNU
Program". It is an open-source
replacement for Adobe Photoshop. I've been using Ver. 2.8.2;
some earlier versions apparently do not have all the resquisite
functions implemented. You can, however, do this with a much earlier
version, say for example if . . . (read
November 17, 2012 -- Glossary
Today I added a Glossary of terms
one is likely to find when perusing the asilid literature. It is
specifically oriented towards the older descriptive literature. Most
of the terms are morphological. The glossary itself is an
amalgam of several public-domain works, edited, modified, and
tweaked for Laphriini. The tweaking will eventually be extensive.
The glossary now, however, includes much that it shouldn't,
or is of limited relevance. Further, it lacks many things
that should probably be present. These include many that I know
about, and many more that I don't. Although the
glossary is manifestly incomplete and
inadequate, I will be improving it
This site much needs a glossary. For someone with
a general background neither the original
descriptions nor my redescriptions are
self explanatory. You have to start
somewhere. Things have a habit of never getting done
unless you put them out for public consumption.
But once started they more-or-less write themselves,
bit-by-bit. This is my philosophy for
the entire website. With this glossary, eventually my
mixing, tweaking, and editing of the original works
will be so extensive that neither the overall
result or the individual entries will bear any
resemblence to to their one-time
templates and props.
Further, many of the entries will rely heavily on my personal
experience; dry-as-dust . . . (read more)
November 14, 2012 -- Mistake
Today I removed two references from the Bibliography that I had added recently. The first
was Aldrich's update to his 1905 Diptera Catalog. It mentioned a Dasyllis
ablicollis Bigot 1878 from Mexico. I had not seen this species, and given
the date, thought it might be a Laphria s. str. I was
wrong. It is a true Dasyllis, or at least it is treated as one in the
1953 key to that genus by Carrera. I removed the citation for this paper as
well. I had yet to see it when I posted, and thought it likely that it would
comment on the confusion between Laphria s. str. and
Dasyllis at the turn of the twentieth century. I have since looked at
a translation (obtained from Geller-Grimm's website). It does no
such thing. So neither paper belongs. The references for the two papers I
removed are listed . . . (read more)
October 24, 2012 -- More Laphriini
Thanks to Bob Lavigne I added 23 new references to North American Laphriini
today. Bob sent them to me yesterday. I had known about some of these--more on
that shortly--but some were in places I would have never looked, and had it not
been for Bob would have been missed for a long while if not forever.
As I said in my last post the current bibliography was derived directly
from the one in my dissertation. That covered the two genera I plan to describe
as new, as well as the North American Choerades. In other words it
covered the flies that were once considered as Laphria, before
Bombomima was synonymized, as well as any general papers on
Laphria s. lat., anything of historical significance, and
anything necessary to place a particular species within one of the four genera.
This sounds like a lot. And in fact it is. But it is important to note it is
NOT everything, if one wishes exhaustively to cover the entire tribe for
North America north of Mexico. Namely, it omits references to collection and
prey records for particular species of Laphria s. str.,
if these were segregated from larger works.
Now I once had all that material and still do. But it is not in a form I
can easily access. Back in what seems like dim prehistory when I started my
revision, I indexed all the literature available at the time for everything,
including those disconnected references to particular species of
Laphria s. str. This was long before the advent of
personal computers. So my index was in paper form. It consisted of sheets of 8
1/2 by 11 inch paper, on which I manually typed the citation at the top, and
then either typed (or more usually pasted photocopies) the pertinent lines on
the page below. I then arranged the sheets in chronological order. Had they
been amalgamated as typed into a binder it would have been about 10 inches
thick. The stack was then placed in a small, portable plastic file
As an aside, I did not originate this method myself. It was a direct copy
of . . . (read more)
October 20, 2012 -- Laphriini Bibliography
I updated the Laphriini Bibliography with
13 papers. To start with, I realized that the bibliography did not include two
essential general asilid papers. First was the literature update by Lavigne
(1999). Second was the follow-up update by Ghahari, Lavigne, and Geller-Grimm
Next, I added a newer paper I also knew about but had likewise overlooked,
namely Bedell's (2010) list of Virginia asilids.
Last, I regularly check the web for new papers. In doing so I stumbled
across ten much older publications. Eight mention . . . (read more)
June 14, 2012 -- Early Season Flies
I got out in the woods around my log house on June 9 and took some photos
of live robber flies. I got shots of two species. The top one pictured I'm
assuming to be a male of Laphria flavicollis Say. There were a number
of these about, mostly still hunting in deep forest understory from the upper
surface of fallen timber. They also occasionally landed on dead leaves on the
forest floor or on live fern fronds. The one thing in common among all three
types perches was that they were all in bright dappled light, within a foot or
two of the ground. BTW, the "woods" I'm referring to are old growth oak-maple
forest, with many trees having boles several feet in diameter.
The next three photos of course aren't laphriines, or even a robber flies.
They're syrphids. I've included them here because these syrphids were fairly
common around the logs frequented by our L. flavicollis, with
the males in fact apparently patrolling a short beat--in other words, the two
types of fly must regularly come into contact with each other, certainly as
adults and even, now that I know the larvae live in wood, perhaps as immatures.
From looking at Skevington, Thompson, and Marshalls's Field Guide to Syrphidae of the Northeastern North
America, I place them as a species of Temnostoma. I saw a
L. flavicollis attack one of these patrolling
Temnostoma in mid-air. I believe it got it, but it flew off before I
could confirm. These particular Temnostoma wave their front legs
up-and-down when at rest. This foreleg movement reminds me of the constant
waving by an Ichneumon of it's antennae, but of course otherwise the gestalt of
the two insects differs completely. Supposedly Temnostoma mimic potter
wasps, Eumenidae. The first two shots were taken several weeks prior, on May 19
(as sort of a displacement activity, when no robber flies were about), and
illustrate well the two most characteristic poses of the fly. I took the third
shot, of another specimen, a few minutes after the described asilid attack. It
has more of the specific characters visible, and should be useful if . . . (read more)
May 14, 2012 -- Malaise Trapping,
This is a laptop with a second screen, set up as it should be to view the
types of plates I will be displaying here. The plate in the photo is one of
part of the male terminalia of Dasylechia atrox, an oddball Laphriine
fly. The second monitor is flipped sideways. A setup like this allows you to
take in the entire plate at one glance. The original lettering on this plate as
well as on most I've done was inked 25-30 years ago with a LeRoy letting set.
Boy, have things changed. When I made this particular plate computers cost
around ten thousand dollars each and came with all of 64 kilobytes of RAM. I
remember making this plate well; I did it on Strathsmore board at my home at the
time -- an 8x40 trailer in Laramie, Wyoming, on the edge of town, after work,
with a dissecting scope and grid, light board, and rapidograph set, all of which
I provided myself (and still have). At the time I worked full-time as a clerk
in a junk store even further away from town but in another direction, and
squeezed in classes and study for my PhD. as I could. In other words, I got
these plates and many others completed under circumstances I'd never want to
repeat. As for the trailer, I could look out the back window, away from town,
and see nothing but prairie for miles and miles. I could see so far that
approaching thunderstorms were discrete entities that could be tracked long
before they hit. In short, you could see those babies coming.
I sometimes think that graduate students pay too high a price for their
Union Card; considering that once they've gotten a professional job many of them
never do much else again, other than posture and perhaps raise money. Raising
money, of course is a job too; it takes lots of time and effort, and so I'd
guess the explanation lies there. But it seems a waste to spend years training
people for some extremely specialized activity like insect taxonomy, for which
presumably they have some natural bent, and then, when they've been hired
professionally, to immediately require as the sine qua non of remaining
employed, that they spend the majority of their time writing grant proposals,
instead of actually exercising and developing their acquired skill, when they
could do the latter almost out of pocket money. The result is a tiered system
of indentured servants in which nobody wins, lest of all society at large. I
suppose it's a necessary evil. At least with funding the average doctoral
candidate gets through in a reasonable period of time, even if he's not doing
what he wants. And the average professor gets a pay check and security he'd
otherwise be hard put to come by in the rough-and-tumble world of real business.
In fact, generally I'd say grad students are so sick of the whole research gig
by the time they've finished they're glad to be rid of it, like a pennant
exorcising himself of a devil. I didn't go this route. But the road I did take
certainly wasn't paved; it had its own ruts and washouts which may in the end
have been far worse. It's a miracle in a way I'm still working on flies, even as
an avocation. Or I should say, especially as an avocation.
A week ago I ran a malaise trap in a woodlot I own, next to my log house. A
photo is in the blog header. It's still very early Spring here (in west central
Pennsylvania), the trees are not far removed from budding, and the ferns are
only a few inches high. I hadn't run the trap this early before, so I thought
I'd see what I got. The main catch seemed to be . . . (read more)
April 22, 2012 -- Cookie Jar
I didn't have time this last three weekends to take or process more
photographs of flies. I did take a couple of shots today of my photography
The shot just to the right shows the camera mounted on the copy stand from
the side. I took the lights off the copy stand. They weren't necessary, and
got in the way when I needed to move it. The camera is a Nikon D90, the lens is
a Sigma 180 mm macro with a 2x adapter, and the flash is a Sigma ring unit
(EM-140DG). Everything is mounted on a stacking rail. I've taken all the recent
habitus shots using this setup, with the camera in manual mode, at ASA-200,
F-32, and 1/50th second. I don't think the timing is critical; without the flash
it's dark in the cookie jar; so the shutter just has to be open for longer than
the flash. I set it to 1/30th second for the head profile shots. One thing that
is very noticeable from this view, is that the camera and lens are not exactly
vertical: they're tilted slightly backwards. To compensate for this I pin the
fly at a slight angle as well.
The next photo shows the same rig from an angle, and is slightly enlarged
compared to the first. You'll note that I'm not using a remote flash; I just
set the timer and then press the button. My log house is extremely sturdy, but
even so I need to be careful not to move, as with photo stacking any vibration
will result in more work for the software. BTW, it's the stacking rail that you
adjust incrementally between shots, not the lens focus. Otherwise, the position
of the specimen would shift in the field of view.
In the third photo, I've shown the pinning tray in the cookie jar. The
cookie jar does exactly what I need, that is, it diffuses the flash. But the
pinning tray might be improved on. Other people seem to be pinning the insects
they are photographing on the outside of an inverted Styrofoam cup, and shooting
them from the side, rather than from the top. Apparently the curved sides of
the cup result in less shadow. This in turn should result in less work with the
GIMP. I'm considering either using the bottom of the cookie jar itself as a
backdrop or maybe a section of . . . (read
April 7, 2012 -- Musings
"Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne, He travels fastest who
travels alone." Rudyard Kipling
First off, this isn't a post about Laphriini. If I had to give it a title,
I would call it "The Importance of Picking the Right Group to Work On." Or,
more specifically, the right-sized group. Or something like that, for
as you will see I will wander more than a bit, and would like to keep a tad in
reserve as a surprise. In short, it's an essay, and if you want to know what I
have to say, you'll need to follow the path where it leads.
I just turned 60 a few months ago--which is that age where you think a lot
about what you've done and still hope to do. And in thinking I've realized that
there wouldn't be enough time in five lifetimes to do what I'd originally
thought possible with asilids in just this one, at least without essentially
becoming a machine and boring myself to death. The Asilidae is a huge group.
There are many North American genera I've never even seen specimens of in a
museum, much less in the field. Even for the Laphriini, it would have taken me
a lifetime to collect every species I've covered. And that's just collecting
them as adult flies with a net. If I'd wanted to collect larvae and rear them
through that alone would take several lifetimes more.
I've always had a secret envy of people who in their spare time worked on
small, well-defined groups, with limited distributions. For example, in the
middle of the last century Mont Cazier worked on apiocerids--a small strange
group of flower-feeding flies that superficially look a little like asilids. In
his entire life he only published three papers on them--but two were of book
length. The catch of course is that you have to live where your critters occur;
Cazier spent his summers in Arizona, and apiocerids are distributed throughout
the southwestern deserts. It's of little use to anybody and especially to
yourself to work on a group that's found so far away you'll be lucky to ever see
a member alive. You might be able to do this if you work in a museum, but even
so it's a fool's game. Nothing is really complete or satisfying unless you can
easily relate structure to behavior, behavior to habitat, habitat to
distribution, and all of the previous to some sort of story of . . . (read more)