VCSU Macro-Invertabrate Lab
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Order Diptera

Key to Diptera larvae. This key covers larvae of the 16 Families of Diptera that we have collected in North Dakota rivers and streams. For the purposes of this key we have broken down the sixteen Families into five groups. The larvae of these insects can be difficult to identify. We will attempt to give as clear of a key as we can. The main features to examine are the presence or absence of an obvious head; any prolegs or welts on the thorax or abdomen; caudal structures on the end of the abdomen; and various hairs, setae, or tubercles on the body. Examine the descriptions and pictures shown below and decide which group your specimen best fits.

Group 1 - Head fully visible and the head capsule is complete (Fig. 1); in most the thorax and abdomen are the same width (Fig. 2). Families include Dixidae, Simuliidae, Ceratopogonidae, Chironomidae and Psychodidae. Note - many mature Chironomidae larvae have an expanded thorax. If your specimen has an enlarged thorax and a prominent proleg on the thorax (like figure 1) it is most likely a Chironomid. If it does not have a thoracic proleg it is in some other group. Overall appearance like Figure 3.

Chironomidae head Chironomidae body Dixella body
Group 2 - Head fully visible and the head capsule is complete (Fig. 4), thorax wider than abdomen (Fig. 5). Families include Chaoboridae and Culicidae.

Culicidae head Chaoboridae body
Family Tipulidae - Head capsule sclerotized and visible but usually partially or fully retracted into thorax (Fig. 6). Often have distinctive lobes on the end of the abdomen (Fig. 7).

Tipulidae head Tipulidae body
Group 3 - Head usually inconspicuous (Fig. 8) but sclerotized portions of the head capsule may be exposed externally (especially in the Stratiomyidae). Families include Stratiomyidae, Empididae (Fig. 9), Tabanidae (Fig. 10), Athericidae, and Dolichopodidae.

Athericidae head Empididae body Tabanidae body
Group 4 - Head inconspicuous and sclerotized portions of head capsule absent (Fig. 11). Families include Syrphidae (Fig. 12), Sciomyzidae, Ephydridae, and Muscidae (Fig. 13).

Sciomyzidae head Syrphidae body Muscidae body

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