Synonyms and other taxonomic changes
Tendipedidae (Meigen 1800) suppressed in favor of Chironomidae (Meigen 1803); see details in Classification section on pg 8 of PDF doc
Explanation of Names
(χειρονομος) 'one who moves the hands' (refers to the front legs, often raised and vibrated)(1)
is from Middle English mydge
and Old English mycg
with the same meaning--a small fly. The word extends back to *mu-
, an Indo-European
root meaning small fly. A separate linguistic branch arising from the same root led to Latin musca
and Greek myia (μυια), "fly" (Partridge, Origins--a Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English
817 described spp. in ~140 genera in our area, plus many undescribed(1)
(current data, >1050 species in NA(2)
); almost 7000 spp. in ~500 genera worldwide(3)
mostly 1-10 mm; males of Chironomus plumosus to 13 mm
Small, delicate flies, resemble mosquitoes but do not bite. Often "dance" in the air in large swarms over water or lawns. At rest, characteristically hold their front legs above head-height and extended forward, giving the illusion of elongate antennae to the untrained eye.
Other family characters(1)(4)
wings long and narrow, without scales (wings of mosquitoes have scales)
males have long, feathery (plumose
often very long
wing tip without a straight vein reaching margin between two branched veins
Comprehensive keys to genera (both adults & larvae) in(5)
; other keys to larvae: Canada(6)
to easily identifiable taxa.
For more difficult groups, see closeup picture requests
Worldwide, from Antarctica to the high Arctic islands, but perhaps absent from some hot deserts.
Usually damp areas, or near bodies of water. Larvae mostly aquatic; a few occur in decaying matter, under bark or in moist ground. Larvae of some species tolerate seasonal desiccation.
Early spring through fall in temperate areas; Diamesinae and a few members of Orthocladiinae fly in winter.
Larvae mostly scavengers. Most Tanypodinae prey on small invertebrates, including other Chironomidae. Larvae of a few species are parasites of invertebrates (a South American genus parasitizes fish).
Adults are short-lived and do not need to feed. Many will take sugar water (or honeydew) given the opportunity.
Larvae are mostly aquatic filter feeders, often living in tubes in soft mud; some are leaf-miners of aquatic plants.
Eggs - Larva - Pupa
Red larvae of genus Chironomus are called "bloodworms". Their blood contains hemoglobin, unusual for insects. Larvae are often very abundant and are an important food item for many freshwater fish and other aquatic animals.