Diptera: Life Cycle & Habitat

Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

Diptera, the 'true flies,' is one of the largest orders of insects and includes many familiar faces. In this lesson we'll take a closer look at the members of Diptera and learn about their habitat and life cycle.

Two Wings

The insect world is vast and diverse. There are an estimated 2 to 30 million different species of insects on Earth. This makes them not only the most diverse group of animals but also about 80 percent of all species. It's also estimated that there are an unfathomable 10 quintillion (that's 10 followed by 18 zeros!) individual insects on Earth at any given time.

One important group of insects are those in the order Diptera, or the 'true flies.' The word Diptera comes from the Greek di for 'two' and ptera for 'wings.' This name is quite fitting for the insects of Diptera because true flies do in fact have only one pair of wings. This is distinguishing because other insects have two pairs, or four wings. Diptera's ancestors also had four wings, but Diptera insects' second pair of wings evolved into halteres, which are modified balance organs that give the insect an amazing amount of fine control while flying.

True flies have only one pair of wings
crane fly


Diptera is one of the largest orders and is quite diverse with more than 100,000 species worldwide. Don't let the name fool you though, because Diptera contains more than just your average housefly. The small, soft-bodied members of Diptera do include a variety of flies such as fruit flies, horseflies, robber flies, and houseflies but also mosquitoes, gnats, and midges.

Because the Diptera are such a diverse group they can be found just about anywhere. They are most common in humid, moist environments, but can also be found in deserts, forests, mountains, and even polar regions. They are also common in both fresh and saltwater environments such as lakes, ponds, streams, marshes, and swamps.

Swamps like this one are great places to find members of Diptera

Diptera Life Cycle

Diptera have a complete metamorphosis, meaning that they go through four life stages: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. The number of eggs laid by a female varies by species, from just a few eggs to thousands of them. Mom doesn't have any involvement in the care of her babies, so she lays her eggs on a food supply for when they hatch. Larvae, which often look like worms, hatch from the eggs. These larvae may have 'false legs' called prolegs that look like the little legs you see on caterpillars. But Diptera larvae lack any truly jointed legs.

Diptera larvae often look like worms
fly larvae

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