Entomology Department


Fieldwork in the Western Cape, South Africa

22 September 2013

Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs, Curator of Entomology, conducted fieldwork in the Western Cape Province in October 2012. This fieldwork represents collaboration between Dr. Pierfilippo Cerretti (Sapienza Universitá di Roma, Rome, Italy), Dr. Jim O’Hara (Canadian National Collection of Insects, Ottawa, Canada), Dr. John Stireman and Dr. Isaac Winkler (both Wright State University, Dayton, USA); three of whom are authors on the systematic chapter on the fly family Tachinidae for the forthcoming Manual of Afrotropical Diptera. The broad aim of the project was to obtain suitably-preserved specimens of the family Tachinidae from the Afrotropical Region for the extraction and sequencing of DNA. The Curator participated in this project, in order to undertake general sampling and to build the Diptera and Hymenoptera collections.

As the collecting focus of the working group was predominantly “hill-topping” for tachinid flies, it was only possible to collect by sweeping at many of these sites, but Malaise traps were deployed at three sites where the group was based for two or more days, namely at: Anysberg Nature Reserve, Gamkaskloof (Die Hel) and at West Coast National Park. Gamkaskloof (Die Hel), an isolated, heavily vegetated river valley, in particular, proved extremely productive for flies.

Dr. Ashley Kirk-Spriggs
Dr. Ashley Kirk-Spriggs servicing a 6 metre Malaise trap at Anysberg Nature Reserve ©Jim O’Hara.

Welcome to Hell! Gamkaskloof (Die Hel). This richly vegetated valley provided the best sampling of the trip ©Jim O’Hara.

Dr. Pierfilippo Cerretti and Dr. Jim O’Hara
Dr. Pierfilippo Cerretti and Dr. Jim O’Hara on their “sweepstake” in Die Hel ©Jim O’Hara.

Dr. Isaac Winkler and Dr. John Stireman
Dr. Isaac Winkler (checking his “net income”) and Dr. John Stireman (“Out of Africa”) ©Jim O’Hara.

Entomology receives SABIF funding for digitization

23 January 2013

The Entomology Department of the National Museum was in receipt of a “Seed Funding for Digitisation Grant” from SABIF in early 2013. This funding is enabling digitisation of our extensive collection of Coleoptera (beetles), which currently comprises over 153 000 specimens. The collection is significant both in its geographical scope and as the largest collection of beetles from the Free State Grasslands. Ms. Eunice Letsobe was employed in January 2013 to undertake the digitisation, and over a period of 12 months 26 000 individual specimens will be fully digitised, for later transfer to Specify 6. This is also enabling full re-curation of the material and transfer to newly-constructed glass-topped insect drawers with unit trays.

Ms Eunice Letsobe
Ms. Eunice Letsobe

Drawer of beetles

Fieldwork in Namibia and Zambia

17 January 2013

Dr Daniel Whitmore, Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs and Dr Steve Marshall
Dr Daniel Whitmore, Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs and Dr Steve Marshall
Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs, Curator of Entomology, undertook fieldwork in the Caprivi Region of Namibia and Zambia in November/December 2012, with two overseas visitors: Dr Steve Marshall (University of Guelph, Canada) and Dr Daniel Whitmore (Zoological Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark). Dr Marshall is one of the world’s leading fly photographers and his main objective was to obtain suitable images of living flies for use as frontispiece illustrations for systematic chapters in the Manual of Afrotropical Diptera. Dr Whitmore was focusing on the collection of flesh flies of the fly family Sarcophagidae for revisionary studies of the group. Ashley focused on the general sampling of Diptera and Hymenoptera using Malaise traps, baited hanging traps, mercury vapour light trapping and the deployment of lure-baited fruit fly traps.

Dr Steve Marshall capturing images of living flies on the Zambezi River.
Dr Steve Marshall capturing images of living flies on the Zambezi River.










Examples of Dr Steve Marshall’s images of living flies for use in the Manual (both from Aardvark burrows (Auchmeromyia bequaerti and Pachychoeromyia praegrandis).

Flesh flies
© Steve Marshall

Demonstration of Specify 6

11 September 2012

Curators and collection managers depend on reliable and user-friendly databases to store information regarding their objects and specimens and to keep track of loans to other institutions.  Various databases are currently in use, but it is desirable to have a single database, which could in future be web-based, for all the natural history collections in the Museum.  Dr Willem Coetzer (South African Institute of Aquatic Biodiversity; SAIAB) demonstrated Specify 6 to all concerned staff at the National Museum.  Specify 6 is a relational database tailored to suit natural history collections.  It is a freely available and is already widely used in other museums in South Africa and worldwide.  Data from part of the Entomology collection (four insect orders) and the entire Arachnology database have already been migrated to Specify 6 by Willem and Brigit Davis, who provided training in the use of the program to relevant staff.

Research visit by leading world authority on muscid flies

11 September 2012

The Department of Entomology hosted a three month research visit by Dr Márcia Couri (Museu Nacional, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), the world’s leading authority on muscid flies.  Dr Couri’s principle research objective was to study the Museum’s collection of unidentified Afrotropical muscid flies for a chapter on systematics in the Manual of the Afrotropical Diptera.  The study resulted in the identification of 159 species in 39 genera, representing 18% of species and 66% of genera currently recognized in the Afrotropical Region.  The study will also result in the description of six species and one new genus, 54 new locality records for the region and new Muscidae hosts of conopid flies.  All contributions will be co-authored with Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs (National Museum) and Dr Adrian Pont (Oxford University Museum of Natural History, United Kingdom).

Prof. Márcia Couri

Guest Editor of special issue of African Invertebrates

25 June 2012

Dr Mike Mostovski (left) and Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs

Ashley Kirk-Spriggs, Head of Entomology, was guest editor of the special issue of African Invertebrates, Volume 53 (1) Gedenkshrift in honour of Brian Roy Stuckenberg (1930–2009).  The issue contains a dedication paper to Dr Stuckenberg, plus 20 articles by leading dipterists that deal with the taxonomy, nomenclature, systematics and biogeography of representatives of 19 families of nematoceran and brachyceran Diptera.  This volume comprises 378 printed pages in all and is richly illustrated.  Ashley was invited to present the guest lecture at the official launch of the publication at the KwaZulu-Natal Museum on 21 July 2012.

Ashley graduates

19 April 2012

Ashley H. Kirk-Spriggs (Head of Entomology) graduated with the degree of Doctor or Philosophy from Rhodes University, Grahamstown on the 12th April, with a thesis entitled “A systematic revision of selected genera of Afrotropical Curtonotidae (Diptera: Schizophora: Ephydroidea) – a phylogenetic approach”.


World's rarest fly rediscovered

7 December 2010


On a recent trip to Kenya, Ashley Kirk-Spriggs, Entomologist at the National Museum, and Bob Copeland (International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), Nairobi, were fortunate to re-discover the bizarre wingless fly, Terrible Hairy Fly (Mormotomyia hirsuta), which has only been collected twice before, in 1933 and 1948, although several expeditions have subsequently been unsuccessful in re-discovering the species.

 The fly belongs to a family of its own, the Mormotomyiidae, which is endemic to the Afrotropical Region. The systematic position of this family within the higher flies has long been an anomaly and we now have suitably preserved specimens (collected during our trip) for molecular analysis. The situation regarding its systematic position can now at last be resolved.

The species is known from only a single locality in the world and is the world’s ‘rarest fly’. The flies are associated with bats and the larvae develop in the bat guano following heavy rains when this is washed from a cleft in the rock inhabited by the bats.

 The flies have the forewings reduced to tiny straps, and have enormously long legs, clothed in immensely long hairs which they use as a parachute to drift down from the roof of the rock crevice in which they live.

 This discovery represents a major leap forward in our understanding of the systematics of the higher flies and is causing a great deal of excitement within the dipterological community worldwide.


Female Mormotomyia hirsuta.
Male Mormotomyia hirsuta


Assistance to the National Insect collection

13 October 2010

Ashley Kirk-Sprigs

Ashley Kirk-Spriggs, Curator of Entomology, spent three days at the National Collection of Insects (ARC-Plant Protection Research Institute), in Pretoria in October, assisting in the sorting of their unidentified collection of true flies (Diptera). During this period he sorted 5,000 specimens into 63 families, 14 of which were not previously represented in the collection. This represents a major step forward towards their goal of updating their Diptera collection, which currently does not have a resident specialist.

The Boyekoli Ebale Congo Expedition 2010

10 June 2010
Baleinières Boyekoli Ebale congo Expedition

A major European initiative to celebrate International Year of Biodiversity was the multidisciplinary scientific expedition Boyekoli Ebale Congo Expedition (meaning study of the Congo River), organized by three Belgian consortium institutions: the Royal Museum of Central Africa, the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, and the National Botanical Garden of Belgium, in collaboration with the University of Kisangani (UNIKIS) in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).


 Thirty-six non-Congolese scientists, mainly Belgians, took part in the Expedition over a period of two months (May – June). Other expedition scientists were from France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands and the United States, and Ashley Kirk-Spriggs from South Africa.  Subjects studied included aquatic insects, archaeology, biogeochemistry, botany, entomology, fishes and their parasites, geology – cartography, herpetology, limnology, linguistics, mammals and their parasites, and organic pollutants.  Congolese scientists and students worked closely with foreign scientists to facilitate collaboration and allow for skills transfer.


Ashley was one of four entomologists on the expedition specifically studying the Diptera (true flies).  His participation generated 3 813 dry-pinned specimens, mostly flies, all of which have now been staged, labelled, identified to family and databased.  As a result, specimens of selected families have already been distributed to chapter contributors for the forthcoming Manual of Afrotropical Diptera.  Most of the material is still preserved in alcohol and has not yet been sorted, but in total the collection is likely to exceed 10 000 insects.  Specimens generated through the expedition will eventually be returned to the DRC and form the core of a collection for a planned centre of biodiversity.


All in all, this was a once in a lifetime experience and provided the unique opportunity to sample in areas otherwise entirely inaccessible.  The expedition received an enormous amount of media interest and coverage worldwide and has done much to increase public awareness of the activities of scientists in many disciplines, as well as highlighting conservation and biodiversity issues.



Sweep-netting Boyekoli Ebale Congo Expedition
Sweep-netting flies at Lieki village © Kris Pannecouke
Pinning flies Boyekoli Ebale Congo Expedition
Micro-pinning tiny flies aboard one of the baleinières.