Picture-Winged Flies: A Comprehensive Exploration of These Tiny Insects

folder_openDiptera, Insecta
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Picture-winged flies are fascinating insects closely related to fruit flies. They get their name from the striking patterns adorning their wings, which often display colorful spots or bands. Some species are even known to wave their wings in circles while perched as if they are rowing, adding to their visual appeal.

Not only are their wings uniquely patterned, but the body shape of many picture-winged fly species closely resembles that of ants. A common example, Delphinia picta, features a distinctively large snout that makes their face appear similar to an old-style gas mask. These fascinating features make picture-winged flies a captivating subject of study for entomologists and nature enthusiasts alike.

Picture Winged Fly Overview

Identification and Appearance

Picture-winged flies are small insects belonging to the family Ulidiidae. They are characterized by their:

  • Striking patterns of spots or bands on their wings
  • Ant-like body shape

For example, the Delphinia picta species has a large snout, giving its face an appearance similar to an old-style gas mask1.

Species and Distribution

While there are many species of picture-winged flies, they can commonly be found in North America and other regions. Some species, such as those in the genus Drosophila, make up a significant portion of the insects found in Hawai’i2.

Comparison Table

Feature Picture-Winged Flies Other Insects
Wing Patterns Spotted or banded patterns Varies by species
Body Shape Ant-like Varies by species
Family Ulidiidae (Diptera order) Varies by species
Notable Example Species Delphinia picta Varies by species

Biology and Behavior

Life Cycle

The life cycle of the picture-winged fly consists of four stages, including egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Female flies lay eggs using their ovipositor on suitable material for larvae to feed on.

  • Egg: Usually laid near decaying plant materials, where larvae will find a food source.
  • Larva: Upon hatching, larvae consume organic material and grow through several instar stages.
  • Pupa: The larval stage ends when they form a cocoon-like structure, called pupa, where they undergo metamorphosis.
  • Adult: Upon emerging from the pupa, the adult picture-winged fly is ready to mate and reproduce.

Diet and Feeding Habits

Picture-winged flies, akin to fruit flies, usually feed on decaying plant matter. Their spotted and banded wings are used not only for flight, but also to display during mating rituals.

Features of Picture-Winged Flies:

  • Antlike body shape
  • Spotted or banded wings
  • Some species wave their wings in circles while perched

Comparison Table: Picture-Winged Flies vs. Fruit Flies

Aspect Picture-Winged Flies Fruit Flies
Body Shape Antlike Small, oval
Wing Appearance Spotted or banded wings Clear, unpatterned wings
Feeding Habits Decaying plant matter Decaying fruit
Importance in Science Limited Widely studied as model organisms

One noteworthy example, the Delphinia picta, has a large snout that resembles an old-style gas mask. These fascinating flies provide insight into the diverse biology and behavior of insects that share unique features and different feeding habits depending on their environment.

Relationship with Humans and Environment

Impact on Agriculture

Picture-winged flies are generally considered harmless. These flies belong to the family Ulidiidae, which is different from fruit flies (Tephritidae) that typically affect agriculture. Their unique wing patterns and large snouts make them easy to distinguish from more harmful species like lance flies, flutter flies, and signal flies. For instance, Ceroxys latiusculus is an example of a picture-winged fly that does not pose a significant threat to crops.

Indoor Infestations

Occasionally, these flies may find their way into homes, usually attracted by decaying matter, sap flows, nectar, or rotting vegetation. They might gather near windows, as they are drawn to light sources. However, picture-winged flies are not typically associated with indoor infestations or major issues in human environments. Their preferred habitats are more natural settings such as garbage dumps and areas with rotting organic matter.

Comparison Table: Picture-Winged Flies vs. Fruit Flies

  Picture-Winged Flies Fruit Flies
Family Ulidiidae Tephritidae
Harm to Agriculture Generally harmless Can cause significant crop damage
Wing Pattern Unique and varied Less distinct
Common Habitats Rotting vegetation, garbage dumps Fruit, decaying matter, human environments

Picture-Winged Fly Features:

  • Unique wing patterns
  • Harmless to agriculture
  • Prefer rotting vegetation and garbage dumps

Fruit Fly Characteristics:

  • Less distinct wings
  • Cause crop damage
  • Frequent human environments

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Natural Predators and Defense Mechanisms

Antlike and Gas Mask Features

Picture-winged flies have some unique features that help them defend against predators. For instance, they often have an antlike body shape, which may deter potential enemies due to ants’ reputation for being aggressive and unappetizing. A common species, Delphinia picta, is characterized by a remarkably large snout resembling an old-style gas mask1. These physical adaptations provide camouflage and mimicry, contributing to the fly’s defense mechanisms.

Common Predators

As for their predators, picture-winged flies face threats from various creatures like:

  • Spiders2
  • Birds
  • Other larger insects
Predator Likely Target: Picture-Winged Flies
Spiders ✔️
Birds ✔️
Larger Insects (e.g. Assassin Flies) ✔️

Overall, picture-winged flies employ both their antlike and gas mask features, as well as their unique wing patterns to evade numerous predators found in their habitat.

Additional Picture-Winged Fly Facts

Moist Habitats

Picture-winged flies, or Otitidae, are closely related to fruit flies and are known for their striking wing patterns. They are commonly found in moist areas, such as:

  • Wetlands
  • Marshes
  • Garden edges near water sources

These insects are mostly active during late summer and fall, preferring to lay eggs in or near rotting vegetation, seed heads, or in small gaps in submerged plants.

Potential for Biting

Although picture-winged flies are often mistaken for biting insects, they are not known to bite humans. Their bite is primarily reserved for their prey, as some species are predatory. However, it’s essential to accurately identify these flies, as they can resemble other insects capable of biting, like certain mosquitoes or flies.

Comparison table: Picture-winged flies vs. Mosquitoes:

  Picture-winged flies Mosquitoes
Moist Areas Common in wet habitats Common in wet habitats
Size Varies, usually small Varies, usually small
Wing Pattern Distinct patterns Uniform wing color
Biting Not known to bite humans Bites humans

Keep in mind that the scientific name for picture-winged flies is Otitidae. So, when observing these insects in their moist habitats, remember that while they appear similar to mosquitoes, their unique wing patterns and lack of biting behavior set them apart from their more bothersome relatives.


  1. Missouri Department of Conservation 2
  2. Hawai’i Department of Land and Natural Resources 2


  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com 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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Tags: Picture Winged Flies

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