Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Flesh-flies (the family Sarcophagidae) are a family of flies that, as their name suggests, eat meat (from the Greek sarco- = corpse, phage = eating). They are insects that are often mistaken for common house-flies, although they are somewhat larger in size. Generally, flesh-flies are flies whose larvae consume meat and carcasses, where the adults commonly breed. These larvae, commonly known as maggots, live in the meat for about 5-10 days, before descending into the soil and maturing into adulthood. At that stage, they live for 5-7 days before dying.
The family contains three subfamilies, the Miltogramminae, the Paramacronychiinae and the Sarcophaginae, containing between them 108 genera. Flesh-flies are quite closely related to the family Calliphoridae, which belongs to the same (large) infraorder, the Muscomorpha , and includes species such as the blow-fly that have similar habits to the flesh-flies.
Flesh-flies can carry leprosy bacilliand can transmit intestinal psuedomyiasis to people who eat the flesh-fly larvae. Flesh-flies can also cause myiasis in animals, mostly to sheep, and can give them blood poisoning, or asymptomatic leprosy infections.
Flesh-fly maggots occasionally eat other larvae although this is usually because the other larvae are smaller and get in the way. They also eat the larvae of grasshoppers and also eat beetles, snails, and caterpillars, especially the forest tent caterpillar . This habit can be useful for biological control. Flesh-flies and their larvae are also known to eat decaying vegetable matter and excrement and they may be found around compost piles and pit latrines.
Flesh-flies like to give birth to live young on corpses of human and other animals, at any stage of decomposition from newly dead through to bloated or decaying. Most species prefer flesh in an advanced state of decay, but some prefer barely cold corpses.
The life cycle of flesh-fly larvae has been well researched and is very predictable. Different species prefer bodies in different states of decomposition, and the specific preferences and predictable life cycle timings allows forensic entomologists to understand the progress of decomposition and enables the calculation of the time of death by back extrapolation. This is done by determining the oldest larva of each species present, measuring the ambient temperature and from these values, calculating the earliest possible date and time for deposition of larvae. This yields an approximate time and date of death (d.o.d.) This evidence can be used in police investigations and may assist in identification of a corpse by matching the calculated time of death with reports of missing persons. Such evidence has also been used to help identify murderers.
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