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Revista de Biología Tropical

On-line version ISSN 0034-7744Print version ISSN 0034-7744

Rev. biol. trop vol.61 n.3 San José Sep. 2013


Synanthropy of Sarcophagidae (Diptera) in La Pintada, Antioquia-Colombia

Sinantropía de Sarcophagidae
(Diptera) en La Pintada, Antioquia- Colombia

Daniela Yepes-Gaurisas1*, Juan David Sánchez-Rodríguez1, Cátia Antunes de Mello-Patiu2*  & Marta Wolff Echeverri1

*Dirección para correspondencia:


Recently, populations of flies have increased in numbers given the elevated levels of organic matter waste produced by anthropic activities and domestication of animals. Such increase represents a worldwide health concern, since flies can be vectors of human diseases. The great variety of feeding and  developmental habits of flies of the family Sarcophagidae taking place on animal corpses, feces and decomposed organic matter make them potential vectors of pathogens. Herein, we evaluated the synanthropic index (SI), as well as other ecological aspects of this family, through simultaneous monthly samplings in three areas with  different degrees of human disturbance (urban, rural and forest). Each area had four  van Someren Rydon traps, each one with a different bait (i.e., human feces, chicken viscera, fish and decomposing onion). Traps were active during 48 hours each month, and specimen collection was made every 12 hours. A total of 7 446 Sarcophagidae individuals were collected (1 275 males and 6 171 females), belonging to 27 species and nine genera. Tricharaea (Sarcophagula) canuta (SI=+96.67), Oxysarcodexia taitensis (SI=+93.85), Peckia (Peckia) chrysostoma (SI=+90.00) and Tricharaea (Sarcophagula)  occidua (SI=+88.76) exhibited the highest values of synanthropy index, revealing a  strong preference for human settlements. The most abundant species were Oxysarcodexia conclausa (21.80%), Ravinia effrenata (18.67%), Oxysarcodexia bakeri (11.45%) and Oxysarcodexia taitensis (10.20%), all of which exhibited preference for urban environments. Additionally, we are reporting seven new records of Sarcophagid flies for Colombia: Oxysarcodexia angrensis, Oxysarcodexia bakeri, Oxysarcodexia diana, Oxysarcodexia similata, Oxysarcodexia timida, Peckia (Peckia) pexata and Titanogrypa (Cucullomyia) placida.

Key words: Flesh flies, synanthropic index, ecology, tropical dry forest, biodiversity, life history.


La  población de moscas se ha visto  incrementada recientemente por la proliferación de residuos de materia orgánica  proveniente de la actividad antrópica, así  como por la domesticación de animales. Este aumento constituye una gran alerta de salud a nivel mundial, ya que algunas moscas  son  vectores de enfermedades al humano. Los Sarcophagidae cuentan con una gran  variedad de hábitos de alimentación y  desarrollo, los cuales tienen lugar en cadáveres de animales, excrementos y materia orgánica en descomposición; haciéndolos posibles vectores de patógenos. En este estudio se evaluó el índice de sinantropía, al igual que otros aspectos ecológicos de esta familia median- te muestreos mensuales simultáneos en tres zonas (urbana, rural y bosque), usando trampas van Someren Rydon ceba- das con excremento humano, vísceras  de pollo, pescado y cebolla en descomposición. En cada zona se instalaron cuatro trampas (una por atrayente), durante 48 horas cada mes, realizando recolectas cada 12 horas. Se recolectaron 7 446 individuos de Sarcophagidae (1 275 machos y 6 171 hembras),  de  27  especies  y  nueve  géneros.  Tricharaea (Sarcophagula)  canuta (+96.67), Oxysarcodexia taitensis (+93.85), Peckia (Peckia) chrysostoma  (+90.00)  y  Tricharaea (Sarcophagula) occidua (+88.76) presentaron los índices de sinantropía más altos del estudio, lo que refleja una  fuerte  preferencia  por  asentamientos  humanos.  Las especies más abundantes fueron: Oxysarcodexia conclausa (21.80%), Ravinia effrenata (18.67%),   Oxysarcodexia bakeri  (11.45%)  y   Oxysarcodexia  taitensis  (10.20%), todas  exhibiendo preferencia por ambientes  urbanizados. Se reportan siete nuevos registros para Colombia: Oxysarcodexia angrensis,  Oxysarcodexia bakeri, Oxysarcodexia diana, Oxysarcodexia similata, Oxysarcodexia timida, Peckia (Peckia) pexata y Titanogrypa (Cucullomyia) placida.

Palabras clave: índice de sinantropía, Sarcofágidos, ecología, bosque seco tropical, biodiversidad, historia de vida.

The Sarcophagidae Hagen, 1881, are a family of Calyptratae flies present in all geo- graphic regions of the world, from which nearly 2 600 species have been described. They are distributed in three subfamilies: Miltogramminae, Paramacronychiinae and Sarcophaginae (Pape 1996). Sarcophagidae show the highest richness in the Neotropical region and it is strongly  dominated  by  Sarcophaginae,  with few members of the other subfamilies (Pape & Dahlem 2010). In Colombia, there are 78 species reported: six Miltogramminae and 72 Sarcophaginae, the latter grouped in 24 genera, with some of the most notorious being: Oxysarcodexia Townsend, 1917, Peckia Robineau-Desvoidy, 1830, Ravinia Robineau-Desvoidy, 1863 and Lepidodexia Brauer & Bergenstamm, 1891 (Pape et al. 2004).

Sarcophaginae have a wide variety of habits, some species being scavengers, coprophages, hosts of ant and termite nests, some cause myasis to amphibians and mammals, others are predators on arachnid eggs, butterfly larvae and bee pupae. They can even be highly specialized parasitoids in other arthropods (Pape et al. 2004). This variety of habits is what allows several species to be associated with human environments and domestic animals, becoming a great threat to public health, due to their capacity to become vectors of pathogenic organisms such as protozoa, helminthes, bacteria and virus (Greenberg 1973).

The transformation of natural environments into urban and rural areas, radically changes local fauna and flora, however, some species of flies can adapt to these new conditions;  this  association  is  called  synanthropy and can be calculated for different ecological regions according to the formula proposed by Nuorteva (Ferreira 1979, Linhares 1981, Dias et al. 1984, D’Almeida 1984, Ferreira & Lacerda 1993, Gomes & Von Zuben 2005, Montoya et al. 2009, Uribe et al. 2010), who considers synanthropy as “the capacity of some animals to make use of favorable conditions created by men” (Nuorteva 1963).

Calculation of synanthropy index (SI) is based on the comparison of flies species collected  in  urban,  rural  and  forest  areas. This index ranges from -100 and +100; positive values show a preference for areas with human settlements and negative values show intolerance to ecological changes resulting from urbanization. The degree and nature in which synanthropy occurs is different depending on the species, the geographical and weather conditions of the place, and the characteristics of the human groups that modify the habitat in a determined way, with their culture, traditions and habits (Nuorteva 1963). Furthermore, the environmental impact caused by a poor management of residuals, increases densities of synanthropic flies populations, and in consequence, the potential of disease transmissions (Paraluppi & Castellón 1994, Lomônaco & Almeida 1995, Ferreira & Barbola 1998).

Sarcophagidae are an important component of synanthropic fauna in South America, however, there are few works done under this perspective, which have been developed mainly in some regions of Brazil as Curitiba (Ferreira 1979), Campinas (Linhares 1981), Belo Horizonte (Dias et al. 1984), Rio de Janeiro (D’Almeida  1984)  and  Goiânia  (Ferreira  & Lacerda  1993).  In  Colombia,  there  are  only two studies on synanthropy, one for the family Calliphoridae (Montoya et al. 2009) and another for Muscidae (Uribe et al. 2010) with none on Sarcophagidae associated to anthropic environments. This way, the present work is a contribution to the ecology, natural history and general knowledge of the Sarcophagidae.

Materials and Methods

Study site: La Pintada is located in the Southwest of the department of Antioquia, Colombia, at 5º44’ N - 75º36’ W at an aver- age altitude of 600masl. Annual average temperature  is  27°C,  relative  humidity  is  76% and average annual precipitation is 1 000mm, the latter having a bimodal distribution characterized by two wet periods (April-May and September-November) and two with less precipitation (December-March and June-August). The municipality has an area of 55km2  with a population of 10 450 inhabitants and an urban area  of  6.5km2    (Velásquez  et  al.  2006).  All sampling areas belong to Tropical Dry  Forest (T-df) (Holdridge 1967).

Sampling: The study was simultaneously done in three areas with different ecological characteristics: 1. Urban area: located in the village (5º44’48” N - 75º36’34” W) at an altitude of 610masl. There are drinkable water, sewer- age  system  and  periodical  waste  collection. 2. Rural area: grasslands located 5km away from the urban area (5º43’25” N - 75º37’26” W) at an altitude of 770masl. Drinkable water is collected from a spring, it also has a septic tank and waste is burned. The site provides ecotourism services with approximately 150 visitors each month and holds four permanent residents, beef cattle and horses. 3. Forest area: it is characterized by low human intervention, located in Farallón de la Paz (5º43’24” N - 75º37’15” W) 5.5km away from the urban area and at an altitude of 850masl.

Four van Someren Rydon traps (Villareal et al. 2004) were installed in each area, placed one meter high from the ground and separated from each other by a distance of 50m. Each trap was baited with about 150g of a bait type: human faeces, fish, chicken viscera or rotting onion. The traps were left for 48 hours each month,  and  obtained  material  was  collected in Falcon vials containing 70% ethanol every 12 hours (06:00 and 18:00h). Samples were taken every month for a total period of six months,  from  February  to  July  2007.  The total sampling effort in each area was 1 152 hours. Precipitation data were provided by the Colombian Meteorogical Institute (Instituto de Hidrología, Meteorología y Estudios Ambientales de Colombia-IDEAM).

Preservation  and  identification:  Only the males were identified, since there are not descriptions and keys for the females; nonetheless these were considered for some analyses. Males were set in entomological pins with their external genitalia exposed, in order to observe the structures that allow species identification. They were identified following the keys of Carvalho & Mello-Patiu (2008), Buenaventura et al. (2009) and Pape & Dahlem (2010), the cata- logue by Pape (1996), some descriptions and redescriptions (e.g. Lopes 1946, 1962, 1975, Leite & Lopes 1989, Lopes & Leite 1991, Lopes & Tibana 1991, Guimarães 2004, Giroux et al. 2010) and through the revision of the Sarcophagidae  reference  collection  deposited in the Entomological Collection of University of Antioquia (Colección de Entomología de la Universidad de Antioquia - CEUA), identified by Thomas Pape and Cátia Antunes de Mello- Patiu, specialists on this family. The nomenclature adopted was from Pape (1996). All material was deposited in the Entomological Collection of University of Antioquia (CEUA, Collection National Register No.036).

The SI was calculated according to the formula by Nuorteva (1963), SI=(2a+b-2c)/2, where a. is the percentage of individuals of a given species collected in the urban area, b. is the percentage of the same species collected in the rural area, and c. the percentage of the same collected in the forest. For this analysis, only species with a number equal or higher to 15 individuals were considered.


A total of 7 446 individuals were collected (1 275 males and 6 171 females). Males were 17.1% of the sample, distributed in nine genera and 27 species. Oxysarcodexia and Peckia were the most diverse genera with 11 and six species respectively, Ravinia and Tricharaea with two species, and Argoravinia, Helicobia, Sarcodexia, Sarcofahrtiopsis and Titanogrypa were represented by only one species (Fig. 1). The complete results for all species are in the appendix section.

From all the species found, only Peckia (Squamatodes) ingens (Walker, 1849) were reported for Antioquia; the remaining species are new records for this department, and seven of them were also new records for Colombia: Oxysarcodexia angrensis (Lopes, 1933), O. bakeri (Aldrich, 1916), O. diana (Lopes, 1933), O. similata (Lopes & Tibana, 1987), O. timida (Aldrich,  1916),  P.  (Peckia)  pexata  (Wulp, 1895) and Titanogrypa (Cucullomyia) placida (Aldrich, 1925), which totalizes 85 species for the country (Fig. 1).

Oxysarcodexia conclausa (Walker, 1861), Ravinia effrenata (Walker, 1861), O. bakeri and Oxysarcodexia  taitensis  (Schiner,  1868)  were the most abundant species respectively, representing 62.07% of the total number of males collected (Fig. 1). These species were scarcely found in the forest area. Consequently, the urban and rural areas had the highest proportions of individuals: 71.69% and 23.22% respectively (including all the species found) (Fig. 2, 3).

Titanogrypa placida, Oxysarcodexia cyaniforceps (Hall, 1933), O. diana, Peckia pexata and Sarcofahrtiopsis cuneata (Townsend, 1935) were the most scarce species with only two individuals for T. placida and one individual for each of the remaining species; however, three of these species were new records for Colombia (Appendix).

Most of the collected individuals were found in May, which coincides with the wettest month;  on  the  other  hand,  the  least  number of sarcophagid flies were collected during February when the precipitation was very low. Therefore the monthly species abundance was possibly related to rainfall (Figs. 2, 4).

Chicken viscera was the most effective bait in all three areas (41.82%), followed by fish (39.86%), human faeces (16.47%) and onion (1.85%)  (Fig.  3).  However,  a  difference  was found between the preference of males and females for the baits, being chicken viscera the most effective to capture males (33.80%) (Fig. 5), and fish and viscera had a very similar effect in females (41.11% and 39.88% respectively).

The species with the highest synanthropic indices were Tricharaea (Sarcophagula) canuta (Wulp, 1896) and Oxysarcodexia taitensis with 96.67 and 93.85 respectively, showing a very strong preference for human settlements. In contrast, Oxysarcodexia angrensis and Peckia  (Pattonella)  intermutans  (Walker,  1861) with -42.31 and -100.00 respectively, were not found in urban areas and P. intermutans was found  exclusively  in  the  forest  area,  showing a complete avoidance for human settlements. The remaining species showed different degrees of association with human settlements, most of them preferring habited areas (Table 1 and Appendix).


With this study we have reported seven new  records  for  Colombia,  many  of  them previously recorded for other countries in the Neotropical and Neartic regions (Lopes 1975, Lopes  &  Tibana  1991,  Pape  1996,  Oliveira et al. 2002, Pape et al. 2004). These results allow us to resume a total of 85 species of this family for Colombia.

The  most  abundant  genus  in  this  study was  Oxysarcodexia,  represented  mainly  by O.  conclausa,  which  was  observed  through- out   the   study   showing   a   preference   for human settlements and exhibited a strong necrophagous behavior.

Tricharaea canuta was the most eusy- nanthropic  species  with  a  strong  preference for  dense  human  settlements,  it  was  main- ly  attracted  by  human  faeces,  for  which  it could be considered as a potential vector of pathogens to humans.

Peckia (Peckia) chrysostoma (Wiedemann, 1830), Tricharaea (Sarcophagula) occidua (Fabricius, 1794), O. bakeri and O. timida showed a strong preference for human settlements, having high synanthropic indexes (from 90 to 65). Tricharaea occidua was collected in chicken viscera, fish and human faeces  in  similar  proportions,  and  therefore it could be considered a potential vector of human  diseases,  it  has  also  been  registered in previous studies as one of the most abundant species in corpses (Barros et al. 2008). Peckia chrysostoma was mainly found in the urban area and being absent in forests; this coincides with observations in Rio de Janeiro, where it was commonly found inside houses, SI=60.97 (D’Almeida 1984), while in Belo Horizonte it was more common in uninhabited areas, SI=-32.4 (Dias et al. 1984) and inCampinas it showed independence of human settlements, SI=13.90 (Linhares 1981). This species revealed a necrophagous behavior, also evidenced in Rio de Janeiro and Campinas, in a similar way (Linhares 1981, D’Almeida 1984). It has been collected in decomposing fish (Leandro et al. 2005), pig corpses (Barros et al. 2008, Barbosa et al. 2009) and human corpses (Oliveira-Costa et al. 2001) in Brazil, where is of great forensic importance.

Oxysarcodexia similata, Sarcodexia lambens (Wiedemann, 1830) and P. ingens revealed a preference for human settlements, being present in all three sampling areas, with a similar abundance in urban and rural areas. Sarcodexia lambens  showed  a  strong  attraction  for  fish and chicken viscera, in accordance to other studies where this species has been found in a large proportion in corpses (Barros et al. 2008). However, it is an opportunistic species and it has been attracted by a variety of substrata, such as pig and human corpses (Oliveira-Costa et al. 2001, Barros et al. 2008, Barbosa et al. 2009),  and  even  causing  myasis  in  humans (Queiroz de Leão et al. 1996, Fernandes et al. 2009) and frogs (Hagman et al. 2005).

Linhares (1981) reported Helicobia morionella (Aldrich, 1930) attracted by chicken viscera, mouse corpses and human faeces, showed the highest abundance in the latter; it also resulted in a synanthropic index that reveals a complete rejection for human settlements. These results contrast with those found in this study, since the few individuals collected of this species were caught in the urban area being attracted by fish and chicken viscera, with no individuals in human faeces.

Peckia pexata and P. (Euboettcheria) anguilla (Curran & Walley, 1934) were considered  an  asynanthropic  species  by  Dias  et al (1984), differing from the herein presented results, since P. anguilla showed its highest abundance in the rural area, also being present  in  the  urban  and  forest  areas.  However, both species exhibit necrophagous habits and have been previously associated to corpses’ decomposition (Barros et al. 2008). Peckia pexata is represented in this study by only one individual collected in the rural area, for this reason, nothing could yet be concluded. In Brazil, this species has been recorded as one of the most abundant in corpses in the Cerrado biome being present in several phases of decomposition, and therefore, having forensic importance (Barros et al. 2008).

Oxysarcodexia avuncula showed dominance in the forest of Belo Horizonte (Dias et al. 1984), while in the present study it was found in the rural area and the forest in equal proportions, being collected in fish and chicken viscera. This species has been attracted by corpses  in  Brazil  (Barros  et  al.  2008),  and in this study 75.0% of its individuals were attracted by fish and the other 25.0% by chicken viscera.

The species that showed preference for uninhabited areas were Oxysarcodexia sarcinata (Lopes, 1953) and Peckia (Euboettcheria) collusor (Curran & Walley, 1934). The latter showed complete rejection for human settle- ments in Campinas, SI=-71.10 (Linhares 1981), Belo Horizonte, SI=-93.00 (Dias et al. 1984) and  Rio  de  Janeiro,  SI=-80.99  (D’Almeida 1984), with most individuals collected in the forest, it was classified as an asynanthropic species. In La Pintada, it showed a necrophagous behavior being attracted in a larger proportion by fish and chicken viscera, what coincides with the other studies (D’Almeida 1984, Barros et al. 2008, D’Almeida & Lima 1994), while in Campinas it has been also reported in human faeces (Linhares 1981).

Oxysarcodexia angrensis was collected in all baits, being fish the most successful. This species exhibited a very low synanthropic index (-42.31) indicating a complete rejection for human settlements, which is in accordance to observations in Campinas where it was present in chicken viscera, mouse carcass and human faeces, SI=-58.90 (Linhares 1981).

Peckia intermutans presented the lowest synanthropic index (-100.00), since this spe- cies was recorded only in the forest, showing a complete rejection for urbanized areas, which make it an asynanthropic species. This result is similar to the behavior found in Campinas, SI=-94.30 (Linhares 1981) and Rio de Janeiro, SI=-60.1 (D’Almeida 1984); but it significantly differs from the results of Belo Horizonte, SI=4.2 (Dias et al. 1984) where P. intermutans showed independence from inhabited areas and was found in the three areas, with a lower proportion in the urban area. This species showed a necrophagous behavior, also exhibited in other studies (Linhares 1981, D’Almeida 1984, D’Almeida & Lima 1994), for this reason several taxonomists have remarked its importance in forensic entomology (Carvalho et al. 2000, Oliveira et al. 2002, Barros et al. 2008).

The great abundance of females in each environment can be explained by the need of appropriate substrata for laying larvae, being necrophagy the most abundant habit, while onion  did  not  have  a  significant  importance as bait. A deeper knowledge on the ecology of Sarcophagidae will help to better understand the dynamics of its species and their effect on the ecosystem, which in turn opens the possibility to use the asynanthropic species as indicators of healthy environments, and even synanthropic species could be implemented in the forensic entomology field in Colombia.


We want to thank to the family compensation fund Comfenalco-Antoquia for founding this project. To the Laboratorio de Colecciones Entomológicas de la Universidad de Antioquia (CEUA)  and  the  Grupo  de  Entomología  de la Univesidad de Antioquia (GEUA) for their great help during the field sampling. Finally we want to thank Elena Ricaurte Yepes for her kindly and invaluable help in translating this manuscript and to Juliana Cardona-D for her valuable comments.


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Daniela Yepes-Gaurisas: Grupo de Entomología, Instituto de Biología, Universidad de Antioquia, Calle 70 No.  52-21, Laboratorio 7-311, Medellín, Colombia;
Juan David Sánchez-Rodríguez: Grupo de Entomología, Instituto de Biología, Universidad de Antioquia, Calle 70 No.  52-21, Laboratorio 7-311, Medellín, Colombia;
Cátia Antunes de Mello-Patiu: Departamento de Entomologia, Museu Nacional, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Quinta da Boa Vista, São Cristóvão, CEP 20.940-040, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil;
Marta Wolff Echeverri: Grupo de Entomología, Instituto de Biología, Universidad de Antioquia, Calle 70 No.  52-21, Laboratorio 7-311, Medellín, Colombia;
1. Grupo de Entomología, Instituto de Biología, Universidad de Antioquia, Calle 70 No.  52-21, Laboratorio 7-311, Medellín, Colombia;,,
2. Departamento de Entomologia, Museu Nacional, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Quinta da Boa Vista, São Cristóvão, CEP 20.940-040, Rio de Janeiro, Brasil;

Received 23-III-2012.    Corrected 12-I-2013.    Accepted 08-II-2013.

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