Master’s Research Projects: gut analysis of coprophagous dipteran larvae – Alex Dye

The first in a series of posts detailing some of the Master’s Research Projects (MRPs) being undertaken here at Harper Adams University features the dipterist, head our MSc twitter page, and all-round good guy, Alex Dye!

When the MSc students began thinking about research projects, some of us needed a helping hand in the direction to work on; perhaps a suggestion from our lecturers, a specific taxon to work on, or maybe an ecological interaction upon which to focus. Alas, not Alex. His knowledge and love of the Diptera (true flies) made his choice and formulation of a project somewhat easier. After brainstorming ideas with Dr. Erica McAlister, taxonomist and font of knowledge on Diptera at the Natural History Museum (@flygirlNHM), he decided to investigate the gut contents of dipteran larvae living in the faeces of pigs, cows, and sheep. He suspects that different dipteran families living in the same stools will be feeding on different things, and previous observation suggests stool-living dipteran larvae can have widely divergent diets at the family level (e.g. Mesembrina meridiana (Muscidae), the noon fly, feeds on other invertebrates within stools, whereas Scathophaga stercoraria (Scathophagidae), the golden dung fly, feeds on the stool itself). However, the gut contents of stool-living dipteran larvae have not been well studied and, considering the vast ecological importance of coprophagous insects, this novel approach could lead to interesting findings (Stubbs and Chandler, 1978).

Alex will conduct controlled field tests in April through July. These will involve placing a “high-tech” mesh bucket over a given stool with an alcohol bowl attached to kill and trap some adults. The adults may be used for ID purposes, and Alex hopes to identify to at least family level, and to species level if the need arises. He’ll, of course, also be digging deep within the faecal debris to fully gauge the larval fauna found there. Once larvae are found, he’ll try to identify them and this will be aided by the adult IDs. He plans to then take the larvae and centrifuge them, isolating their gut contents. Gut contents may then be identified, or so the plan predicts!

Alex says the he’s also really hoping to find the larvae (or adults!) of the hornet robber fly, Asilus crabroniformis, which has never before been found, but is suspected to feed on dung beetle larvae. Adults have been spotted around Shropshire, so it’s not outside of the realm of possibility.

If you have any advice or admiration for Alex, both of which he would appreciate, please contact him! (email:, twitter: @AlexLikesFlies, Instagram: @alexlikesflies)

Blog written by Max Tercel (email:, twitter: @MaximumInsect)


Featured photo: A laterally pinned Scathophaga stercoraria. Pinned, identified, and photographed by Alex Dye!

Featured image: Scathophaga stercoraria photographed by Alex Dye.


Stubbs, A., Chandler, P. and Cribb, P. W. (Eds.) (1978) A Dipterist’s Handbook. The Amateur Entomologist, Vol. 15. The Amateur Entomologists’ Society.

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