Dance Fly: All You Need to Know for a Buzzing Good Time

Dance Flies are an intriguing species of insects known for their unique mating rituals and behaviors. These small winged creatures have gained attention due to their fascinating life cycle and adaptations that enable them to survive in various environments.

In the world of Dance Flies, their most notable characteristic is the way they engage in courtship displays. Male Dance Flies attract females by performing intricate aerial dances, showcasing their agility and skill. These displays are not only captivating but also serve as a means for female Dance Flies to choose the most suitable mate according to their performances.

What is a Dance Fly?

Empididae Family

Dance flies are part of the Empididae family. These insects are known for their unique mating habits involving an elaborate dance.

  • Males catch prey and offer it to females as a “gift”
  • Females select males based on the quality of the prey
  • Males perform acrobatic displays to attract females

Diptera Order

Dance flies belong to the Diptera order, which includes all true flies. Some key characteristics of the Diptera order are:

  • Single pair of wings
  • Large compound eyes
  • Short antennae

Here is a comparison table between Dance flies (Empididae) and another family in the Diptera order, Hoverflies (Syrphidae):

Feature Dance Flies Hoverflies
Wing Venation Simple Complex
Mating Ritual Elaborate Less elaborate
Diet Predatory Predatory, pollen, and nectar

Dance Fly Behavior and Mating Rituals

Male and Female Roles

Dance flies have fascinating mating behaviors that involve both males and females. Males typically take up the responsibility of providing nuptial gifts to females during courtship. Females, on the other hand, evaluate the quality of these gifts before deciding whether to mate with the male.

  • Males: provide nuptial gifts
  • Females: evaluate gift quality

Nuptial Gifts

Nuptial gifts given by males to females can vary. They usually consist of prey items or other nutritious substances, such as nectar. Females will evaluate the gift based on its size and quality, directly influencing their decision to mate.

  • Prey items
  • Nutritious substances (e.g., nectar)

Dancing Strategies

Dance flies employ various dancing strategies during their courtship ritual. Males perform elaborate aerial displays, showing off their agility and skill in flight. These displays are a crucial aspect of the mating ritual, as they allow males to showcase their suitability as a mate to females. Some specific dancing techniques include:

  • Aerial displays
  • Agility and skill in flight

In summary, dance fly mating rituals are complex and fascinating, with distinct roles played by both males and females. Males provide nuptial gifts, which females evaluate before deciding whether or not to mate, while elaborate dancing strategies showcase the males’ suitability as a potential partner.

Physical Characteristics

Abdomen and Silk Spitting

Dance flies are unique insects known for their distinctive physical attributes. Their abdomens are often elongated and slender, serving a specific function in the mating process. Certain species of dance flies possess the ability to produce and spit silk strands from their abdomens. This silk-spitting behavior has various purposes, such as creating balloon-like structures for courtship displays or capturing prey.

Ant Mimicry

Another fascinating aspect of dance fly morphology is their ant mimicry. Some species resemble ants in appearance to aid in avoiding predators or for deceptive purposes. Examples of this mimicry include:

  • Reddish or brown coloration similar to ants
  • Constricted waists, giving the illusion of a three-segmented body like ants
  • Mimicking ant movement patterns

Comparing the physical features of typical dance flies and ants:

Feature Dance Fly Ant
Body Shape Elongated abdomen Segmented with a constricted waist
Color Reddish or brown Reddish, brown, or black
Silk Spitting Present in some species Not present
Movement Mimics ant patterns in some species Distinctive scurrying movement

In summary, dance flies exhibit intriguing physical characteristics such as an elongated abdomen, silk spitting, and ant mimicry. These features serve various purposes, including courtship displays and protection from predators.

Various Dance Fly Names and Species

Dance flies encompass a diverse range of species within the Empididae family. These fascinating creatures exhibit unique behaviors related to their courtship and mating rituals.

Line Dancing

Line dancing flies are an interesting group of species within the dance fly family. Their name stems from their distinctive “line dancing” courtship displays, in which the flies perform synchronized movements to attract a mate. Some examples include:

  • Swaying side to side
  • Forming rows or lines
  • Moving in circles

These flies display several common features:

  • Small to medium-sized
  • Bold markings or colors
  • Quick and agile in flight

Gospel Dancing

Gospel dancing flies represent another intriguing subset of dance fly species. Their name originates from their unique courtship rituals that resemble gospel dancing performed by humans. These flies exhibit the following behaviors:

  • Moving in unison
  • Raising and stretching wings upwards
  • Fluttering or clapping wings together

Much like line dancing flies, gospel dancing flies also share common characteristics:

  • Medium-sized body
  • Vibrant colors or patterns
  • Strong and coordinated flight
Line Dancing Flies Gospel Dancing Flies
Synchronized movements Unison dancing
Small to medium-sized Medium-sized
Bold markings or colors Vibrant colors or patterns
Quick and agile in flight Strong and coordinated flight

In conclusion, dance flies are a fascinating group of insects with diverse courtship behaviors. Line dancing and gospel dancing flies are just two examples of the many species within this family, each with their own unique displays and characteristics.

Quizzes and Fun Facts

Dance fly is an interesting insect that belongs to the Order Diptera. Let’s explore some fun facts and quizzes about it.

  • The name “Dance fly” comes from their unique mating rituals, where they perform in-flight dances
  • They have only one pair of wings, which is a common characteristic of the insects in the Diptera Order

Here’s a mini-quiz for you to test your knowledge on dance flies:

  1. What do dance flies use for catching their prey?
    a) Protruding mouthparts
    b) Sticky legs
    c) Long antennae

  2. True or false: Dance flies can be considered as beneficial insects because they prey on pests.
    a) True
    b) False

Now let’s make a comparison table between dance flies and house flies:

Feature Dance Fly House Fly
Order Diptera Diptera
Mating Rituals Perform in-flight dances Do not perform in-flight dances
Food Predatory, eat other insects Scavengers, eat decaying matter

Moreover, these are the pros and cons of dance flies in the ecosystem:


  • Act as natural pest control by feeding on other insects, thus, reducing populations of pests


  • Could be a nuisance if their population grows significantly in a particular area

Remember, everything in nature has a role to play. Dance flies might be small, but they have a significant impact on the ecosystem. Keep learning and exploring the fascinating world of insects!

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Dance Fly or other type of Fly???


Correct Identification?
Location: Battle Ground, WA
April 17, 2011 10:06 pm
I just wanted to thank you for all the excellent resources you provide people with.
My kids captured this insect worried it was a Flying Termite. I used several of the ”Buglinks” and found the bug.
My question is why is the Dance Fly given different scientific names?
Dance Fly – Empis spectabilis and
Dance Fly – Rhamphomyia longicauda.
If the enclosed pictures are not the ”Dance Fly”, could you point me in the right path.
But if I am correct with the Identification,
could you add the picure to your excellent site?
referenced also:
Signature: daddyo

Dance Fly, we presume

Dear daddyo,
The first part of your question has a very easy answer.  Dance Fly is a general name for a member of the family Empididae (see BugGuide) and within that family are many different species.  Many of those species do not have unique common names, but they do have unique scientific binomial names.  The two names you are questioning are species specific and the names include both genus and species indicators.  We believe you are correct that this is a Dance Fly, though we eagerly welcome the input of a dipterist or other knowledgeable person regarding the matter.  We are pleased to post your photos and inquiry, and we will also be creating a Dance Fly subcategory for our website.

Dance Fly we believe

Letter 2 – Unknown Dipteran with Air Balloon: Male Dance Fly


Mosquito with a puff-ball?
We were hiking in Citico Creek Wilderness of the Cherokee National Forest of east Tennessee, when we ran into groups of large mosquito-like insects flying around with large, white, air-filled balls, seemingly made of a material produced by the insect. They were flying around each other, as if in a mating dance! Occasionally one would land on a leaf and I was able to get this photo, what is it and what is the ball for? By the way, he is sitting on the leaf of an almost extinct American Chestnut sapling!
Dan Vance
Cleveland, TN

Hi Dan,
This has us mystified. It is a Dipteran but we do not know anything about the species nor the air balloon phenomenon. We have requested assistance from Eric Eaton. Here is Eric’s speedy response: “Hi, Daniel: That fly from Tennessee is a male dance fly (family Empididae). Males of some species present females with prey they have killed, as a pre-nuptial mating gift. This probably preoccupies her from eating him ! A few species “giftwrap” their prey in balloons like that shown in the photo. A few devious species will simply present an empty balloon. Cheapskates! This courtship behavior is not uncommon, but rarely seen, so kudos to the photographer for being so observant and curious. Find more images of this under Empididae at . Eric “

Letter 3 – Dance Fly


Subject: Bug in birdbath
Location: Northern California
April 7, 2017 7:29 am
I saw this bug yesterday, April 6, on the rock in my birdbath. I cannot identify it and would appreciate your input. Northern California location.
Thank you!
Signature: Kate Schaffner

Dance Fly

Dear Kate,
Both the antennae and the proboscis lead us to believe this is some type of Fly in the order Diptera, but alas, we do not recognize it.  We will contact Eric Eaton for assistance.

Eric Eaton Responds
This is some kind of dance fly in the family Empididae, and by the looks of it a female (males have a bulbous rear end).  Very common early spring flies.
author, Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America

Dance Fly

BugGuide has some similar looking images from the genus Hilara, the Balloon Flies.

Thank you so much Daniel and Eric!


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

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  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

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