Student Research Projects

Hygienic Behavior in the Scuttle Fly, Megaselia scalaris

Student Marlan Hare ‘16 and Amanda Hyre ’14
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department Biology
Course Biology 385: Animal Behavior


The scuttle fly, Megaselia scalaris, is of forensic importance and can be used to estimate a time of death when unknown. It is known to feed and reproduce on decaying bodies, as well as a variety of other media. Due to its role as a decomposer, it is expected that these animals will display numerous cleansing behaviors. For these reasons, we chose the scuttle fly for our behavioral experiments. The cultures used here were descended from flies captured in Portsmouth, VA. We initially observed the flies then developed an ethogram and time budget, which allowed us to sequence the behaviors. We hypothesized that wing flutters and leg rubs are hygienic behaviors, and that, in deteriorated environmental conditions, the frequency of these behaviors would increase. M. scalaris is able to survive on a wide variety of media, including media which is fatal to other species. This allowed us to easily manipulate their media without risking their ability to survive the treatment conditions. We employed three experimental treatments – flies reared on avocado as a media, flies reared on Carolina fly food supplemented with honey, and flies reared on avocado supplemented with honey – and a control in which we reared flies on Carolina fly food in conditions identical to those of the original observations. We gathered observational data and compared the frequency of occurrence of each of the nine observed behaviors. We observed a statistically significant increase in the frequency of leg rubs and wing flutters in the flies subjected to the honey treatment. This culture was became contaminated by mold. These data support our hypothesis that leg rubs and wing flutters are hygienic behaviors in M. scalaris.