Crawlies with Cri: Hybotid dance fly

Hybotid dance fly (Family Hybotidae)

This week’s crawly does everything Fred Astaire did, backwards and in high heels.
Meet the hybotid dance fly (Family Hybotidae).
As you can see, there’s quite a variety of hybotids available for your dancing and pest controlling needs. In fact, there are approximately 300 species of hybotid dance flies in North America.
Fun fact: There are also 460 species of Family Empididae dance flies; some look similar to hybotids. At one time they were all one big family, but the hybotids were split off. Not exactly a Hatfields vs. McCoys situation, but there’s a rumor about a hybotid insulting Great Aunt Empididae’s potato salad at a fly family reunion.
Let’s start with the “dance fly” moniker. Hybotids are actually more well-known for their fancy flying than their fancy footwork. Large groups of males form together in flying clouds performing elaborate “dance moves” to impress the ladies when it’s mating season.
Other flies and flying insects such as midges and mayflies perform similar bouncy aerial waltzes, but dance flies scored the common name.
For as plentiful and beneficial as hybotids are, not much is known about them compared to other species of insects. So it goes for many beneficial arthropods. If they aren’t spreading disease or damaging crops, they aren’t well-studied.
Hybotids, both as larvae and adults, put the “B” in “beneficial insect” in a big way. Some adult hybotids are predators. If you look at the forelegs of the hybotid in the lower left of our photo collage, you see they never miss a leg day!
They use those strong “forearms” to hold onto prey such as mites, midges, mosquitoes and aphids. Their prey is limited to smaller insects because dance flies are teeny. They top out at one-eighth of an inch.
As you can also see by checking out our upside-down dance fly in the lower right of our collage, hybotids also feed on nectar, pollinating as they go.
Still one more benefit to list! Depending on the species, hybotid larvae have either a carnivorous diet or prefer to munch on decaying organic matter in the soil. For the second group it’s “garbage in, soil-improving nutrients out.”
Because there’s such a variety of hybotids, they spread their benefits around! You can find them in aquatic and semi-aquatic areas as well as among flowers and even chilling out by trash receptors. Many of the larvae thrive in a nice pile of trash, or even dung. They really turn the proverbial sow’s ear into a silk purse.
Despite their predatory nature, hybotids aren’t at the top of the food chain, so they also have the benefit of being food for larger arthropods, birds and reptiles.
While they are small, when you get a chance to see hybotids up close, they are also quite pretty. Many species have vibrant red eyes, while others provide a POP! of color decked out in lemony hues.
Hybotids don’t bite or otherwise bother humans, but they do have prey piercing proboscises which in a pinch can be used in defense if they feel threatened. So it’s best to “look don’t touch” when it comes to these fancy dancers.