(Order Diptera)

red-tailed flesh fly
Photo by Bill Reynolds

Diptera is the order of insects that includes gnats, mosquitoes, and true flies. There is estimated to be about 1,000,000 species worldwide, though only about 125,000 have been described. There are about 17,000 species in North America north of Mexico, and at least 500 species in Minnesota. They are widespread and abundant, occurring on every continent, including Antarctica, every state in the United States, and every county in Minnesota. Some are agricultural pests, some transmit diseases. Many are beneficial as pollinators or serve to control other insect pests.


Adults are active from early spring to late fall. They are found in many habitats, always near habitats suitable for their larvae. They are often found on flowers. Some are blood sucking and are found on or near the animals on which they feed. Larvae live in water, soil, decaying organic matter, or plant or animal tissue.


Adults are 164 to 1916 (0.5 to 40 mm) long and relatively soft-bodied. They have a movable head, large compound eyes, and mouthparts optimized for sucking. Most species have 3 small simple eyes (ocelli) in a triangle on top of the head. Their maxillary palps are well developed but they have no labial palps. They have one pair of membranous wings. The hindwings are reduced to small, knob-like structures (halteres). The last part of the leg (tarsus), corresponding to the foot, almost always has 5 segments. The larvae are soft and worm-like. They have no head and no legs.


Distribution Map



7, 24, 27, 29, 30, 82.


Subordinate Taxa


Diptera are traditionally divided into three suborders.

  • Nematocera (flies with multi-segmented antennae)
  • Brachycera (flies with stylate antennae)
  • Cyclorrhapha (flies with aristate antennae)

Recent classifications include Cyclorrhapha within Brachycera.






Common Names












In flies: a pair of knob-like structures on the thorax representing hind wings that are used for balance.



Simple eye; an eye with a single lens. Plural: ocelli.



Short for pedipalp. A segmented, finger-like process of an arthropod; one is attached to each maxilla and two are attached to the labium. They function as sense organs in spiders and insects, and as weapons in scorpions. Plural: palpi or palps.



On insects, the last two to five subdivisions of the leg, attached to the tibia; the foot. On spiders, the last segment of the leg. Plural: tarsi.






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Alfredo Colon

    fly (Order Diptera)      
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Visitor Sightings

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  Alfredo Colon
Summer 2018

Location: Woodbury, Minnesota

fly (Order Diptera)  
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Created: 10/9/2020

Last Updated:

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