Tracking biodiversity with flesh-eating flies

  • Flesh-eating carrion flies have recently been used by German scientists to provide DNA samples, allowing rapid resource efficient determination of mammalian biodiversity in an area. This is particularly useful for very rare mammal species that are difficult to locate using human- based systems.
  • DNA is extracted from


    the flies and in this way the flies last blood meal provides a snapshot of local mammalian biodiversity.

  • An additional benefit of carrion flies is the ability to capture and sample large numbers of flies by baiting them with meat.
  • Although the technique cannot provide an exhaustive list of species in an area or the number of animals, it may be a useful first step to gauge mammalian biodiversity in a region and perhaps identify the presence of rare or endangered mammals.

DNA analysis is becoming ever faster, cheaper and more accurate and utilising naturally collected field samples would make data collection even more efficient and boost the number of samples available for processing. Although carrion flies are not present in the UK, this development highlights the power of lateral thinking and perhaps other insects (e.g. mosquitoes) could provide the same type of samples here, aiding otherwise difficult data collection.

About annaarathe

Research fellow, horizon scanning
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