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Photo: Mexican fruit flies. Link to photo information
Mexican fruit flies are just one of the species in the order Diptera, one of the four largest groups of living organisms on Earth. Click the image for more information about it.

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Database Documents Names for More Than 150,000 Diptera Species

By Ann Perry
August 29, 2008

Distinguishing between insect pests and partners starts with an ironclad identification. So Agricultural Research Service (ARS) entomologist Chris Thompson headed up efforts to accurately identify and name almost 157,000 flies, gnats, maggots, midges, mosquitoes and related species in the order Diptera.

Diptera is one of the four largest groups of living organisms on Earth, and its members are critical components in virtually all non-marine ecosystems. Carl Linnaeus, who devised the scientific classification system still in use today, compiled the first index of Diptera species names in 1758. But even though an average of 800 new Diptera names are proposed every year, the nomenclature has not been comprehensively updated since 1805.

Thompson works at the ARS Systematic Entomology Laboratory in Washington, D.C. For this research, he partnered with Neal Evenhuis, an entomologist at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii; Thomas Pape, an entomologist at the Natural History Museum of Denmark; and Adrian Pont, an entomologist at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History in Oxford, England.

The group assembled the tenth edition of the Biosystematic Database of World Diptera (BDWD). This massive index contains nomenclature data for 156,599 living and extinct Diptera species in 154 families and 11,671 genera—around 10 percent of the known biodiversity in the world today.

The BDWD, which is available at, has two components. The Nomenclator allows users to check names, confirm species status, and obtain information about type, family classification and sources for all names in the collection. The Species database is being designed to answer queries about different species, including their distribution, biological associates and economic importance.

The BDWD provides a framework for organizing and integrating current and future data that is accessible by researchers around the globe. Scientists can obtain a wealth of information that will help them fine-tune Diptera’s evolutionary tree and track the migration, increase and decline of economically-important Diptera species worldwide.

The team presented their research at the 20th International Congress of Zoology in Paris, France, in August.

ARS is a scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.