Diptera: Definition, Characteristics & Anatomy

Instructor: Adrianne Baron

Adrianne has taught high school and college biology and has a master's degree in cancer biology.

Diptera is an order that contains some of the most annoying of insects. We are going to discuss Diptera by looking at their characteristics as well as their anatomy in this lesson.


It is a beautiful spring day. You and your friends choose to take advantage of it by having a cookout. The food has just finished grilling and everyone is ready to eat. Despite putting candles out, you guys begin to get bombarded with flies. Next, the mosquitoes start munching as you are eating. The cookout starts to not be such a great idea thanks to these pesky members of the order Diptera. Diptera is a huge order of insects that includes flies, mosquitoes, and gnats. They are often referred to as the true flies.

It seems that this happens almost every time you are outdoors even though you have tried to prevent it. Frustrated with the pesky members of Diptera ruining your outdoor fun, you decide to get more information about them to see if you can figure out a way to enjoy being outside without them bothering you.


The first thing you learned about members of the order Diptera is that they all have one pair of wings which allow them to fly. That is actually where their name comes from. Diptera literally means ''two wings''. They also have halteres, which are smaller, modified wings that look like dumbbells that they use to help balance themselves while flying.

Members of Diptera get their nutrients from liquid sources so they have mouthparts that are designed for sucking liquids. There are slight variations in mouthparts between different groups among the Diptera. Many have mouthparts designed to pierce and suck. Others have mouthparts designed like straws for sucking nectar from flowers.

All Diptera go through a process of metamorphosis, which is a change in physical form from earlier stages in life to adulthood. They go through at least 4 stages which includes egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The general change during metamorphosis is from being a small, soft-bodied worm to being a slightly larger, harder-bodied fly.

You are really frustrated to learn that you would have to go to the Arctic or Antartica to get away from Diptera. They live in every other area of the world despite the differences in climate. They thrive in more humid environments, but are able to grow in almost any environment outside of extremely cold and dry air.


As you are reading about Diptera, you notice some information about their anatomy and wonder if that may give a clue of how to ward them away from your outdoor activities. You already learned about their mouthparts and wings.

Now you read that they have legs that are straight rather than jointed. The legs do not develop until after they have gone through metamorphosis. Prior to that, Diptera are legless, wingless worms during the larval stage of development. They can look like a small, smooth worm or they may appear to be segmented.

Adult Diptera have segmented bodies that include a head, thorax, and abdomen. The head has large eyes that cover the sides of the head with a small space between them in the front of the head. This helps them to see a wider area as they are flying. They also have antennae on their head which they use for sensing the environment.

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