Last update 28.August.2012
Worldwide the Simuliidae (blackflies) is a family of Diptera containing about 2,132 species (2,120 living and 12 fossil) (Adler & Crosskey, 2012). The reader(s) should bear in mind that the name "blacklfly or blackflies" is also popularly applied to the common black aphids, which belong to the order Hemiptera (plant bugs, stink bugs, whiteflies, etc).
The female in the the majority of Simuliidae species [common names: Buffalo Gnats (English); mawi (Africa); pium, borrachudos (Brazil); potu (India); jejenes (Venezuela); bocones (Costa Rica); rodadores (Cuba)] requires a blood meal for egg maturation, and it is this requirement that makes species in this family important as biting pests and in the transmission of parasites of the blood and skin in both man and warm-blooded animals. The most important parasites in man transmitted by simuliid blackflies are the nematode Onchocerca volvulus and Mansonella ozzardi. The former species is responsible for the human this disease "onchocerciasis or river blindness", affecting 17 million people in the Afrotropical and Neotropical regions.
In spite of the medical importance of some of the species, simuliids are also keystone species in the ecology of running water because of their rare ability to filter dissolved organic matter and make it available in the food chain. Blackflies are also important for environmental monitoring of freshwater contamination, because immature stages (larvae and pupae) are susceptible to both organic and inorganic pollution (e.g., effluent from sugar mills, slurry from farms, insecticide and fertiliser run off from farms and plantations). Blackflies also have a particular evolutionary interest as a morphologically conservative group with very extensive cryptic speciation and reticulate evolution.
The Simuliidae are a morphologically extremely homogenous family and as a result they have been generally neglected in spite of their great medical and veterinary significance. The Natural History Museum, in London, UK, is one of the few institutions in the world to show a sustained research interest in this group. There are various taxonomic problems in Simuliidae worldwide. Firstly, several regional simuliid faunas are still poorly known and they are much in need of biodiversity surveys and revisionary studies, where new morphospecies are to be found. Second, the supraspecific classification is currently unstable and problematic; many species or species-groups are placed in the wrong genus, and whether subgenera should be ranked as species groups or genera is still in much debate. And thirdly, species limits remains poorly defined for many taxa because of the presence of species complexes ("sibling species").
Even though the monumental efforts of Roger Crosskey (now retired) in cataloguing the world Simuliidae fauna (Crosskey & Howard, 1997, 2004) [see also Adler & Crosskey (2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)] the Simuliidae as a whole still remains poorly studied. The Holarctic Region is relatively well known with the appearance of recent catalogues and other publications for the Diptera of the Nearctic and Palaearctic regions. On the contrary, the Simuliidae fauna of the biodiversity-rich areas of the Afrotropical, Neotropical, Oriental and Australasian regions remain poorly understood.
Most simuliid systematists follow the classification system of Crosskey & Howard (2004). However, most robust classification systems have been recently proposed, and the Simuliidae scientific community are not in full agreement with the taxonomic position of many genera. The same applies to species delineation, especially in vectors of Onchocerca volvulus or other pest species. Species boundaries for many simuliid species are poorly defined because variation on main diagnostic morphological characters. This together with differences in biology and biting behaviour might indicate the presence of sibling species, which will have to be studied employing DNA and/or cytogenetic techniques.
One of the main objective of this site is that it should be viewed as the first attempt to share associated data, images, and any other taxonomic information on Simuliidae to establish this group as an invertebrate focal taxon for taxonomic and biodiversity studies. Starting with but not limited to The Natural History Museum, London, UK, data from other museums and researchers will also be included and shared with the scientific and non-scientific community. Currently the site is in an "infant" state and will always be under construction and, therefore, will improve with time.
This site is managed by Luis M. Hernandez-Triana. All photographs has been taken by Luis M. Hernandez-Triana employing an Automontage Digital Synoptics System (see Hernandez et al., 2005; Hernandez & Shelley, 2005). Copyright of any information and/or photographs in this website belong to The Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom.