Ischiodon scutellaris (Fabricius, 1805)
A brief overview of Ischiodon scutellaris
Ischiodon scutellaris is a species of hover fly (Diptera: Syrphidae) that is known to provide ecosystem services by pollinating flowers during the adult stage1 and acts as a biological control agent by feeding on aphids during the larval stage2 . It resembles bees or wasps morphologically3 , a phenomenon known as Batesian mimicry that is common among hover flies and aids in deterring predation4 (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Ischiodon scutellaris on a leaf.
Source: satish nikam on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Table of Contents
There are also many interesting aspects to the taxonomy and systematics of I. scutellaris. The genus Ischiodon has a widespread distribution despite only having four species (I. scutellaris, I. aegyptius, I. astales, I. feae). Each species has a distinct distribution and only I. scutellaris is found in Singapore. The genus Ischiodon has a confusing taxonomic history where its validity as a genus was questioned and I. scutellaris has many synonyms because its genus Ischiodon is morphologically similar to many syrphid genera5 . The phylogenetic position of I. scutellaris in the Family Syrphidae was determined confidently in 20186 .
What is a hover fly?
The common term hover fly is used to refer to a group of flies that are commonly seen hovering around flowers during pollination. Other common names include flower flies or syrphid flies, with the latter referring to their scientific classification in the Family Syrphidae1 .
A hover fly "hovering" around flowers. Video by Ronnie Photography. Taken from YouTube under Fair Use guidelines.
The Family Syrphidae is one of the most diverse families in the Order Diptera, having almost 6000 described species and occurring in almost all parts of the world7 . Most hover flies are brightly-coloured and thus often mistaken for bees or wasps due to morphological similarities3 . This phenomenon is known as Batesian mimicry - a term used to describe the situation where a palatable species looks similar to a non-palatable species in order to escape predation4 . By looking similar to bees or wasps that stings, hover flies may deter potential predators. Hover flies have one pair of wings, with “the other pair” modified into balancing organs known as halteres8 . They can be easily distinguished from other Diptera from the presence of a false vein in their wings3 . Hover flies are widely recognized for providing important ecosystem services from their role as pollinators and biological control agents in the environment9 .
Life cycle and associated biology in each stage
Hover flies are holometabolous insects, meaning their life cycle consists of four stages: egg, larvae, pupa and adult8 .
Note: the description in this section is specific to I. scutellaris but the pictures may not necessarily point to the species. In addition, the duration of each stage in the life cycle of I. scutellaris was based on laboratory experiments10 . Future work may be conducted to assess their developmental duration in the wild.
The egg stage of I. scutellaris lasts for 3 to 4 days10 . The egg of I. scutellaris is chalky white in colour but becomes light purple once hatching is imminent. The egg has an oblong-oval shape with the ends bluntly rounded. The size of an egg is approximately 0.76 - 0.81mm in length and 0.27 - 0.31mm in width11 (Figure 2).
Figure 2. Egg of a hover fly next to an aphid (may not be that of I. scutellaris).
Source: Brenda Dobbs on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0. Annotations by Tan Jia Wei.
The larval stage of I. scutellaris is approximately 5 to 7 days, with the larvae having 3 instars10 . The larvae of I. scutellaris has an elongated shape with wrinkled sides. It has a greenish-brown colour, with a median white line that spans across the entire body length. Brown spots flank the median white line and are also present on the lateral sides of the body. The larvae is roughly 9.6 - 10.8mm in length and 2.2 - 2.3mm in width11 (Figure 3).
Figure 3. Larvae belonging to the Tribe Syrphini (that I. scutellaris belongs in)
Source: Sara “Asher” Morris on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.
Ischiodon scutellaris larvae as biological control agent
Hover flies belonging to the subfamily Syrphinae, which includes I. scutellaris, are known for larvae that are specialised predators of aphids12 . Aphids are considered pests that cause destructive damages to crop plants and of great economic concern3 (Figure 4).
Figure 4. A hover fly larvae (may not be I. scutellaris) that ingested aphids.
Source: Mark Yokoyama on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Ischiodon scutellaris has been recorded in India to be feeding on various aphid species in the genus Aphis (Aphis craccivora, A. gossypii, A. spiraecola and A. verbasci), Acyrthosiphon pisum, Brevicoryne brassicae, Lipaphis erysimi and Myzus persicae etc2 . A later study included the Pearl Millet aphid, Rhopalosiphum maidis, into the list of aphid species that I. scutellaris larvae feed on13 . Ischiodon scutellaris also has been recorded to be found on host plants in India such as cabbage, chrysanthemum, cotton, crucifers, mustard, radish, redgram, rose, watermelon and wheat etc3 . The species was feeding on aphids on these plants3 .
With a voracious appetite for aphids, I. scutellaris and other species in the subfamily Syrphinae have the potential to become effective biological control agent of aphid crop pests12 . Ischiodon scutellaris was hailed as one of the six hover flies with top economic importance in terms of being biological control of aphids in a field study conducted in India11 .
There is currently no literature on host plants and prey items of I. scutellaris in Singapore. However, records of such information from India may aid in understanding or predicting the species’ biology in Singapore as both countries experience tropical climate conditions.
The pupal stage of I. scutellaris ranges from 4 to 12 days10 . The pupa is initially brown in colour, but becomes transparent with visible abdominal bands once it is ready to emerge as an adult. The pupa is about 5.8 - 6.8mm in length and 2.0 - 2.5mm in width11 (Figure 5).
Figure 5. Pupa belonging to the subfamily Syrphinae (that I. scutellaris belongs in)
Source: gbohne on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Ischiodon scutellaris is known to be parasitized by an Ichneumonid wasp, Diplazon laetatorius (Hymenoptera: Ichneumonidae)10 . This species of Ichneumonid wasp is an endoparasite, where the female will oviposit in the egg or larvae (1st or 2nd instar) of the host organism and the adult parasitoid wasp will emerge from the pupa of the host organism12 (Figure 6).
Figure 6. Diplazon laetatorius on a leaf.
Source: Nikk on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.
The lifespan of adult I. scutellaris differs between the sexes, ranging from 7 - 8 days for adult male and 11 - 22 days for female10 . The description for adult I. scutellaris is provided under the taxonomy section.
Adult hover fly as pollinator
Along with bees and butterflies, hover flies are also avid pollinators of flowers14 . They rely on visual and olfactory cues to locate suitable flowers15 . Adult hover flies in the subfamily Syrphinae, which includes I. scutellaris, have been recorded to feed on nectar and pollen in flowers, and honeydew synthesised by aphids12 . Pollen in particular is crucial for ovary development in female hover flies1 (Figure 7).
Figure 7. Ischiodon scutellaris on a flower.
Source: Sam Dickinson on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Interestingly, a study has suggested that bees are able to infer if a flower has been visited by hover flies based on leftover chemical cues. This may help bees to avoid resource-depleted flowers and in turn, increase overall efficiency in pollinating flowers16 .
Hover flies act as pollinators in a wide range of ecological communities and range from general pollinators to specialized pollinators. This implies that hover flies may contribute to the reproductive success of plants1 , and thus maintain ecosystem services and crop production14 . With the global decline in honey bees and other bee species in recent years17 and the fact that hover flies are known to be active all year around8 , pollination may become more dependent on hover flies17 in the future.
Hover flies are often mistaken as Hymenoptera (bees, wasps and others) at first glance due to morphological similarities, in terms of body size, colour and shape. It is hypothesised that hover flies mimic Hymenoptera to avoid predatory attacks by birds. This phenomenon is also known as “Batesian mimicry” – a term used to describe the situation where a palatable species looks similar to a non-palatable species in order to escape predation. Batesian mimicry is widespread in insects, and especially prevalent in hover flies. In addition to morphological similarities, there are also records of hover flies mimicking the behaviour of Hymenoptera, such as visiting flowers at similar timings4 .
Despite morphological similarity, hover flies and bees/wasps belong to different insect taxa. Hover flies can be easily distinguished from bees and wasps based on number of paired wings and antennae. Bees or wasps have two pairs of wings while hover flies have one pair of wings, with “the other pair” modified into balancing organs known as halteres. In addition, wasps have longer antennae than hover flies8 (Figure 8).
Figure 8. Comparison between a Hymenoptera (wasp) and a Diptera (hover fly).
Left. A three-banded Mason wasp, Ancistrocerus trifasciatus. Source: Donald Hobern on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0. Annotations by Tan Jia Wei
Right. A hover fly, Ischiodon scutellaris. Source: satish nikam on Flickr, licensed under CC BY NC-SA 2.0. Annotations by Tan Jia Wei.
Ischiodon scutellaris was first described in Systema antliatorum in 1805 by Johan Christian Fabricius as Scaeva scutellaris. There was no mention of the species concept used to confer the species status (Figure 9).
Figure 9. Screenshot of original species description. Annotation by Tan Jia Wei.
Source: Biodiversity Heritage Library under Fair Use.
The genus name Ischiodon consists of the neuter adjective ischion derived from the Greek word ischion which means “hips, coxa”, and the masculine Greek noun odontos or odous (odon) which means “tooth”. Combined together, Ischiodon refers to the spur on the metatrochanter in some species5 .
The genus Ischiodon currently consists of a total of four species (I. scutellaris, I. aegyptius, I. astales, I. feae) that ranges from small to medium sizes, and have a slender outlook. The face is yellow-coloured and eyes are bare. For females, the eyes are separated in the middle while for males, the eyes meet together. The thorax is black with yellow streaks at the lateral sides. The scutellum is yellow and slightly brownish on the disc. The abdomen is elongated, with the areas in black becoming yellowish or reddish towards the abdominal end5 .
Ischiodon scutellaris may be distinguished from I. astales and I. feae by having a short calcar on the metatrochanter, and from I. aegyptius by having symmetrical claws in all legs5 (Figure 10).
Figure 10. Lateral, dorsal and frontal view of I. scutellaris.
Specimen collected by Toh Kai Xin and property of Insect Diversity Lab. Image by Tiffany Lum (all permission obtained).
Annotations by Tan Jia Wei.
Ischiodon scutellaris is found in Caucasus, Greece, Iran, Kazakhstan, Arabian Peninsula southern to Indomalayan Region, Japan, Australasian Region and Oriental Regions5 , which includes Singapore.
The genus Ischiodon is widespread and occurs in Southeast Asia, Australia, Southern Europe, Africa, China, Japan, India, the Mediterranean basin and certain Pacific Islands. All four species are known to have distinct distribution with little overlaps. Ischiodon aegyptius is found in Southern Europe and Africa, while I. feae is an endemic species on the Cape Verde Islands. Ischiodon astales was discovered recently in Madagascar5 .
The syntype of Scaeva scutellaris (now Ischiodon scutellaris) is kept in the Zoological Museum at the University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark5 . A syntype refers to a specimen in a series of specimens used to describe the species. An image of the syntype is not available.
In the original description by Fabricius (1805), there was no mention of the species concept used to delimit the species. This page is of the opinion that the Phylogenetic species concept (sensu Wheeler & Platnick (2000))18 may be used to delimit I. scutellaris as a species. The species concept confers species status to a species once a population has unique character states that differ from another population. This species concept is also able to address allopatric populations, which is relevant for the genus Ischiodon where all four species have distinct distributions with minimal overlaps.
Characters such as a short calcar on the metatrochanter, symmetrical claws in all legs and male genitalia shape may be used to delimit I. scutellaris as a species. Ischiodon scutellaris may be distinguished from I. astales and I. feae via morphological differences such as the presence of a short calcar on the metatrochanter and from I. aegyptius via morphological difference such as having symmetrical claws in all legs5 .
Ischiodon scutellaris has many synonyms because the genus Ischiodon is morphologically similar to many syrphid genera5 .
Below is a list of synonyms given to Ischiodon scutellaris5 .
Scaeva scutellaris (Fabricius, 1805)
Syrphus coromandelensis (Macquart, 1842)
Sphaerophoria annulipes (Macquart, 1855)
Syrphus splendens (Doleschall, 1856)
Syrphus nodalis (Thomson, 1869)
Syrphus erythropygus (Bigot, 1884)
Syrphus ruficauda (Bigot, 1884)
Melithreptus novaeguineae (Kertesz, 1899)
Ischiodon trochanterica (Sack, 1913)
Melithreptus ogasawarensis (Matsumura, 1916)
Ischiodon boninensis (Matsumura, 1919)
Epistrophe platychiroides (Frey, 1946)
Ischiodon penicillatus (Hardy, 1952)
Epistrophe magnicornis (Shiraki, 1963)
Sphaerophoria macquarti (Goot, 1964)
Phylogenetic study in 2018
A phylogenetic study in 20186 used molecular data, which included the mitochondrial gene cytochrome c oxidase sub-unit I (COI), nuclear 18S and 28S ribosomal RNA genes to ascertain phylogenetic relationships of hover flies in the Scaeva and Eupeodes genera, and certain genera or subgenera in the tribe Syrphini, including the Ischiodon and Simosyrphus genera. DNA was extracted from all 108 samples and sequenced using Polymerase chain reaction (PCR).
The COI gene sequence was aligned manually and gaps were not inserted into the sequence. Secondary structures of nuclear 18S and 28S ribosomal RNA genes were used to insert gaps into the sequence datasets. The alignment procedure is made available online, with links provided in the study. The molecular data from different genes were combined and analysed for phylogenetic relationship using the optimality criterias maximum likelihood and Bayesian inference. For both analysis, the data in the combined dataset was partitioned into five sets – first codon position for COI gene, second codon position for COI gene, third codon position for COI gene, nuclear 28S gene and nuclear 18S gene. Different models were used for each partition. The step is well done because mitochondrial genes evolve faster than ribosomal genes and third codon position evolves faster than first or second codon position for mitochondrial genes, thus different molecular models should be used in order to reach a more confident conclusion for phylogenetic analysis.
The maximum likelihood tree with the highest likelihood score is presented in Figure 11. Node support values were attained using bootstrapping method that ran 1000 times. As two samples of I. scutellaris were included in the analysis, one gave a bootstrap value of 100 while the other provided a bootstrap value between 95 to 99. As such, the phylogenetic position of I. scutellaris as sister group to Simosyrphus and Scaeva genera is confident based on the maximum likelihood optimality criteria. The results from using Bayesian Inference optimality criteria is not discussed on this page (Figure 11).
Figure 11. Phylogenetic tree generated from maximum likelihood and Bayesian inference.
Taken from Mengual et al. (2018) under Fair Use. Annotation in red by Tan Jia Wei.
Phylogenetic study in 2008
Previously in 2008, a study19 made use of molecular data, which include COI mitochondrial gene and 28S ribosomal RNA gene, to ascertain the relationship within tribes in the subfamily Syrphinae. DNA from all 98 samples were extracted and sequenced using PCR. The combined molecular dataset was subjected to direct optimisation using the program POY, which also computed Bremer support values for nodes on the most parsimonious tree. This page is of the opinion that direct optimisation is a debatable method because it is computationally difficult to conduct and the workflow is intractable. However, it is a one-step process as it combines alignment step and tree construction step, which were previously done one after the other. Bremer support values range from 1 to 5, with 3 implying good support and 5 indicating high support20 . The support values indicate how many additional steps are required to forgo a branch in the consensus tree from multiple most parsimonious trees21 .
Note: Ischiodon scutellaris was referred to as Simosyrphus scutellaris in this phylogenetic tree published in 2008 because there was a proposal in 2006 to synonymise the Simosyrphus and Ischiodon genera based on similar larval and pupa morphologies and molecular evidence22 . This highlights how species nomenclature has an information filing and retrieval function and how taxonomic actions may have subsequent effects on phylogenetic works. The validity of the genus Ischiodon has been debated due to morphological similarity with the syrphid genus Simosyrphus. The dispute first originated when Syrphus grandicornis (now Simosyrphus grandicornis) was synonymized under Ischiodon scutellaris in 1912 despite differences in the male genitalia5 . Throughout the years, species in each genus have been placed under each other for a few times. However, the confusion is resolved in 2018 (refer to 2018 study mentioned previously in the phylogeny section) and both Ischiodon and Simosyrphus are valid genera that are sister groups to each other6 .
Back to the 2008 phylogenetic study, the tree branch containing I. scutellaris had a Bremer support value of 2, suggesting that the phylogenetic position of the species is not confident (Figure 12).
Figure 12. Most parsimonious tree with Bremer support values indicated above branch.
Taken from Mengual, Ståhls & Rojo (2008) under Fair Use. Annotation in red by Tan Jia Wei.
Some concluding statements on the phylogenetic position of Ischiodon scutellaris
Why is the phylogenetic position of I. scutellaris confident in the phylogenetic study in 2018 but not in 2008? Some possible reasons may include number of taxon samples, number of genes sequenced, the alignment method or the optimality criteria used for the phylogenetic analysis (Table 1).
Table 1. Comparison between 2018 and 2008 phylogenetic studies which include I. scutellaris.
|2018 phylogenetic study||2008 phylogenetic study|
|Number of taxon samples||108||98|
|Number of genes|
COI, 28S and 18S genes
COI and 28S genes
|Alignment method||Using secondary structures for rRNA|
During direct optimisation
Maximum likelihood and
In conclusion, to resolve phylogenetic relationships confidently, greater number of genes should be sequenced to attain higher node support values and data should be explored with different techniques.
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