A Bubble-Blowing, Rotten Plant-Eating, Gas Mask-Faced Picture-Winged Fly

Please join me for a moment to appreciate a fly that eats rotting vegetation and looks like it is wearing a gas mask while doing it.  Oh, it also has gorgeous decorative wings and likes to blow bubbles.  Yep, you read that correctly.

Delphinia pictaon a sunflower at Lincoln Creek Prairie – Aurora, Nebraska.

Delphinia picta, a picture-winged fly, comes across as eccentric, to say the least.  Its appearance, alone, is remarkable.  The wings are distinctively shaped and patterned, and its long face really does look like it’s wearing a gas mask.  Though small (about 7mm in length), it’s a species that will catch your eye if you glance its way.

Both the adults and larvae of D. picta feed on rotting vegetation.  Mama flies lay their eggs in rotting vegetation, the larvae hatch out and feed on the same rotting vegetation, and after they pupate and become adults, they keep feeding on that same rotting vegetation – or a suitable subsitute.  It must taste good.  Oh, adults have also been documented eating the fermenting poop left behind by tree-boring long-horned beetles.  You know, for a change of pace.  

Delphinia picta can be distinguished from other similar species by the pattern on its wings, the dark-colored top of its abdomen, and its long gas-mask-looking face.  

The aforementioned bubble blowing behavior appears to be a result of the fly regurgitating a little of its most recent meal (likely rotting vegetation) and holding it as a bubble protruding from its mouth.  This might be used as part of a mating ritual (hubba hubba) or as a way to evaporate some of the liquid from its food for easier digestion.  Or maybe both.  

I looked all over online for a common name for this terrific species, but I couldn’t find anything besides Latin.  That seems unconscionable to me.  If there ever was a fly that deserved a nickname, this is it.  Let’s see if we can come up with one, shall we? 

Since picta means painted, that seems like an obvious component of any name we choose.  Since it prefers (did I mention this already?) to eat rotting vegetation, we could potentially call it the “Painted Compost Fly”, but I don’t love that.

Any fly with a face like this deserves a good nickname.

I guess we could just go with “painted fly”, but that’s too plain for such an interesting species.  I think we’ve got to include something about its diet.  I have a suggestion, but I don’t know if it’ll catch on.  I looked up synonyms for rotting and decaying and one of the more fun options is putrefying.  That’s a word we can work with.  See what you think of this option:

The Painted Putrefly.  

Yes?  No?  Can you do better?

17 thoughts on “A Bubble-Blowing, Rotten Plant-Eating, Gas Mask-Faced Picture-Winged Fly

  1. lcgreeny October 2, 2018 / 8:27 am

    I like Painted Putrefly.

  2. anastaciast October 2, 2018 / 8:47 am

    It’s so cute!
    How about “Are You My Mummy? Fly” ?

    • Ellen Rathbone October 2, 2018 / 5:14 pm

      HAHAHA – that’s what I was thinking!!! Ooo-weeee-oooo….

  3. Kristy Zajac October 2, 2018 / 9:19 am

    I love Painted Putrefly!

  4. bethanne October 2, 2018 / 9:43 am

    Great name suggestion!

  5. Patrick October 2, 2018 / 9:50 am

    I’ll bite: maybe painted rot fly?

  6. chris October 2, 2018 / 10:33 am

    Thank you for this informative entry!
    I’ve always wanted to know more about this kind of insect but didn’t/couldn’t find any info- especially since I didn’t know it’s name.
    I called it a Paddle-wing fly since its wings looked like boat paddles.
    I think they’re one of the cutest insects in my garden. :-)
    Thanks, again, for the terrific info!

  7. rudy parnell October 2, 2018 / 11:48 am

    Yes, Painted Putrefly is perfect.

  8. rudy parnell October 2, 2018 / 11:50 am

    Excellent photography and well written.

  9. Bernie Kasper October 2, 2018 / 4:41 pm

    Painted Putrefly sounds deliciously disgusting lol !! Great shot BTW !!

  10. Ellen Rathbone October 2, 2018 / 5:15 pm

    I think they are both pretty good names, although the latter is a bit more amusing.

  11. Laurel Erickson October 2, 2018 / 5:18 pm

    But – we need to include something about the bubble-blowing. What about Painted Puffing Putrefly?

  12. Mary October 3, 2018 / 8:12 am

    I was going with “Painted Putrefly”, but will happily swing my vote to “Painted Puffing Putrefly”!

  13. Karen H. October 3, 2018 / 6:31 pm

    How about painted bubble fly?

  14. Tony October 3, 2018 / 9:20 pm

    *Ahem* May I politely propose, and please, pardon the pun, that it presently be pronounced “The Painted Pustule-Popper”?

  15. John Brazner October 4, 2018 / 12:58 pm

    While I really like the alliteration and sentiment of “Painted Putstule-Popper”, the “painted” part doesn’t stand out for me and pustule-popper seems misleading and possibly a bit scary for some. This little fella looks to be several shades of brown which doesn’t say, “painted” to me. How about the glass-winged putrefly or maybe spitting putrefly?

  16. Pat October 6, 2018 / 6:10 am

    Love this fly whatever you call it! Great photos.

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