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Fruit flies part 1: Introduction to Drosophila

Fruit flies are an excellent food for many surface feeding killifish, closely ressembling their natural diets in the wild. They are easy to culture, quickly, cheaply and in large numbers.

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What is a fruit fly?

Fruit flies are small flies that live on and around decaying fruit and vegetation. They occur worldwide, except the very coldest regions. The species most familiar to scientists, aquarists and herpatologists are in the genus Drosophila which literally means 'dew-lover' in Greek.

Why fruit flies?

  • Nutritious - all fish can be trained to eat flies, but surface feeders love them. Not only are they relished by the fish, but they also have a high fibre content, and are therefore a great contrast to the fattier foods such as worms and beef heart. They are also typically disease-free, unlike some aquatic livefoods.
  • Prolific An adult fly can lay 20+ eggs in a day. Once you get the hang of it, fruit flies are easy to maintain, and at 25 deg. centigrade the development of Drosophila melanogaster takes just 9 days.
  • Availability - unlike collected livefoods cultured drosophila are available year round.
  • Flightless flies available - fruit flies have been studied in laboratories for very many years, and a lot is known about the humble fruitfly. Over the course of these studies, geneticists line-bred many strains of fly, including vestigial-winged, and even wingless flies. These are the flies typically cultured by hobbiests.

Life cycle

Adult flies lay a lot of eggs. A single female can lay over 20 eggs in a day, and can store sperm within her body for up to two weeks, to lay fertilized eggs at will.

Eggs take 23 hours to hatch at 25 deg C. Once they do hatch, the larvae bury into the media and grow. They will stay as larvae for five days, in which time they undergo three moults.

Eventually they will start to climb the sides of the vial, and when fully grown will settle near the top, and form a chrysalis. The change from maggot to fly takes three days.

The image to the right shows a newly formed chrysalis with the larvae's segments still visible (1), an older chrysalis with the fly clearly visible. The red dots are its eyes (2) and an empty chysalis from which a fly will have hatched (3).

Once the flies have emerged they must be moved to new vials, as ther is now no food suitable for them in the old vials.

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Wild-type fruit fly - Drosophila melanogaster

Drosophila larvae in a typical culture

Drosophila larvae climb up the walls of their vials and chrysalise

Drosophila pupae


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