Come Fly with me!

Dr Christine Lambkin is Curator of Entomology at Queensland Museum. She is responsible for the museum’s collections of Diptera (flies), Coleoptera (beetles), Orthoptera (grasshoppers), Hemiptera (bugs), Phasmatodea (stick insects), and a number of smaller insect orders.

Dr Christine Lambkin

Chris Lambkin’s main research interest is the Order Diptera (flies), especially bee flies (Bombyliidae) and stiletto flies (Therevidae). There are about 100 families of flies in Australia and Australia boasts the best fauna of the Therevidae in the world. However, a large percentage of these flies are still not described.

Bee Fly, Villa sp.
Beefly, Wurda windorah, feeding on pollen

Chris is a taxonomist. That means, she identifies and describes new species, in this case, new species of bee flies and stiletto flies. To identify a new species is a time-consuming process because world-wide collections have to be investigated to make sure that the species has not been described before and that it is, indeed a new species, and not just a variant of an existing species. A taxonomist needs to determine the variation in the species; how much is clinal variation, and how much is outside the species limits. If the specimen is like no other species within the genus, then it is described and given a new species name.

World-wide research is needed because when insect specimens were first collected in Australia, some of them were taken back to England and other places around the world and described there. Many Australian bee flies were described by the Frenchman Macquart and stiletto flies by Kröber, a German priest.

Stiletto fly, Evansomyia sp.

In determining new species, Chris needs to examine: the organism’s distribution; all species within the genus that have ever been seen; and check to see if the morphological differences are consistent across the species. i.e. the differences have to be consistent within the species and distinctive between species.

Stiletto fly – new genus of Therevidae

Sometimes DNA studies are done to determine genetic similarity when there is difficulty with some species or with the relationships between species. Fresh material on which to do the DNA studies is needed in these cases.

Chris is also involved in systematics. She estimates relationships between species. She codes morphological characters and molecular data into computer programs to work out these relationships. Large matrices of data are produced and Chris is very adept at these computer analyses.

So a taxonomist is a very valuable guide for the ecologist, molecular biologist, pest manager, and other biologists. Taxonomy provides a way of describing our biodiversity, so that we all know what we are talking about, and that we are talking about the same things. Taxonomy is like all science, inexact by definition, and based on testable hypotheses. More information, from whatever source, may change both the name and the classification of an organism.

Chris is continuing to identify new species of flies as part of FLYTREE – the Assembling the Tree of Life project for the Order Diptera.

To find out more about the work that Chris does, visit her Biography page.

You can find out more about the wonderful adaptations of the Bombyliidae by viewing the video on Bee Flies.

Teachers can download the Animal Adaptation Worksheet which has a Student Worksheet linked to the Australian Science Curriculum.

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