Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
higher taxa recently redefined -- see a summary at(2)
5-30 mm, possibly larger (typically 9-15 mm)
Medium-sized to large predatory flies, often perch in exposed location and make short flies after prey. Typical family characteristics:
top of head depressed between eyes, with three ocelli
in the depression
body from very hairy to nearly bare
body typically elongated, with tapered abdomen
some are bee/wasp mimics
face usually "bearded", with prominent mystax
mouthparts modified to inject prey with saliva, similar in both sexes (unlike in blood-sucking flies, such as Tabanidae
antennae three-segmented, third segment elongate and often with terminal style
most diverse in dry, open habitats; larvae usually in soil or decaying wood
Predatory on a variety of other insects. Orders Diptera, Coleoptera, Hymenoptera, Hemiptera, Lepidoptera, and others.
Minimal courtship behavior. Females lay eggs in the soil or in plants. A few, such as Mallophora
form an egg mass on a plant stem (see photo here
). Larvae often predatory, consuming eggs and larvae of other insects in decaying matter. Typically overwinter as pupa, emerge in spring. Life cycle is 1-3 years.
1. Eggs. 2. Larva. 3. Pupa. 4. Pupal case
CAUTION! Large robber flies may bite if mishandled (forum discussion here
Genera not yet in the guide [per(3)
Bohartia 6 spp., w./sw. US
Itolia 3 spp. AZ-NV-CA
Nannodioctria 2 spp. FL CA
Prolatiforceps 2 spp. NM-AZ
The following are represented by a single species each:
northern transcontinental: Rhadiurgus
w. NA: Stilpnogaster, Willistonina
sw. US: Atomosiella
AZ: Bromleyus, Dicranus, Orrhodops, Perasis
(pers. comm. of 7.vi.2012)
This is a fairly contentious issue. Until recently, most workers have favored a version of the Papavero classification (1973-2009; see recent updates in the Catalogue of Neotropical Diptera or the Manual of Neotropical Diptera, both 2009). I used this same classification in my unpublished checklist of Nearctic Asilidae(5)
(used by Herschel Rainey for his state lists).
In 2009, things were changed significantly by Torsten Dikow(7)(8)
with publication of his PhD work. His morphology-only analysis of 158 spp. yielded 720 most parsimonius cladograms, the favored classification selected being one comprised of 14 subfamilies. A combined total evidence analysis was then performed, adding DNA sequencing data from 77 of the original 158 spp. studied (representing 12 of the 14 subfamilies sampled morphologically). Results from the combined total evidence analysis failed to support the morphology-only classification in many instances, with about half of the subfamilies appearing in multiple positions (=nonmonophyletic) in the favored combined cladograms.
Another problem is that some of the subfamilies recognized lack external characters useful for dichotomous keys or gestalt recognition: many features used in the morphology data matrix require extensive dissection, and those in the total evidence analysis are partly molecular. Ironically, the only truly congruent classification resulting from both methodologies is one where only three subfamilies are recognized (Asilinae, Laphriinae, Dasypogoninae), like the pioneering classifications of Macquart and Loew in the early 1800s! Dikow's work has demonstrated that some of the modern subfamilies and tribes (those more recent than the classic ones just mentioned) are not monophyletic, but problems are apparent with his new classifications as well.
More species need to be sampled for phylogenetic study – especially those with DNA sequencing data – even though total evidence analysis has so far yielded conflicting results. Until a stable, practical classification is available, some version of the Papavero classification is probably still preferable, and I recommend using the eight subfamilies from(3) (currently used on BG) with no tribes recognized (some tribes are apparently monophyletic but others are not, and details and relationships are controversial).
Dennis D.S., Barnes J.K. (2011) Tentative key to robber fly (Diptera: Asilidae) subfamilies based on pupal cases. Zootaxa 3031: 37–46 (Full text
Hull F.M. (1962) Robber flies of the world: the genera of the family Asilidae, U.S. Nat. Mus. Bull. 224: 1-907 (Full text: pp. 1-427