Diptera is an order of animals that have achieved phenomenal success: we meet flies and mosquitoes more often than any other insects. Usually meeting them does not please us: Dipterans are intrusive, and some of their representatives become a real issue in people's lives. However, the world around us is inhabited not just by butterflies and orchids – it is worth getting to know all the neighbours. Moreover, most Dipterans either do not pester us or anyone else. Diptera: An Introduction to Flies is easy to read and gives a general introduction to this order of amazing insects.
The book was first published in Russian in 2019. the current English version was substantially extended and revised by the author and editors.
Dr Nikita Vikhrev is a dipterologist, curator of a number of sections of the Diptera collection at the Zoological Museum of Moscow State University.
"We, a group of European dipterologists, entered the train running over the BAM railway from Komsomolsk (na Amure, that is) to Vanino, at the Pacific coast, planning to leave it early morning at Tumnin Spa. We shared our cabin with two babushki. Once they discovered we could actually understand Russian at a very rudimentary level, they started asking questions. “Where are you going ?” the first granny asked. “And what are you planning to do ?”, the second added. “We are going to look for flies.” The “Ah….” was followed by a long silence. “And when you find them, what will you do ?” “We collect them for science.” This time, they nodded instantly. “Very good, very good indeed”. “You are welcome to be our guests”, said the first babushka. ‘And you may collect as many as you like”, added the second.
Russia has a long-standing tradition of dipterology. Traditionally, this was based in Sankt Petersburg (Leningrad at the time), but nowadays the focus seems to have shifted to Moscow. One of the current leading dipterologists, Nikita Vikhrev, curator of Diptera in Moscow, published a popular scientific textbook on Diptera, recently translated into English with Tony Irwin’s support. Those who are looking for a purely scientific textbook don’t need to bother. This book is filled with personal observations and (Russian) stories on mosquitoes and flies. There are entries on Scenopinidae and Calliphoridae on apartment buildings in Moscow and how to use the latter in warfare, swarms of Bibionid scaring the hell out of Moscowian citizens and a journalist “bitten to death” by Simuliidae while covering a soccer match at Volgograd (don’t worry, nobody died). The author claims that Culicidae are the most ferocious at Kosh-Agach in the Altaj mountains, which I can confirm from personal experience. Finally, the crazy story of Mucha (English transcription would be Mukha = fly in Russian, related to Musca) Tzokotucha going from Russian fairy tale to stamp to a species of Sepsidae. And Pushkin, of course.
Don’t get me wrong ! Diptera, An Introduction to Flies gives a very decent and popular scientific overview of the order of Diptera. It treats all important families of Diptera and the author clearly knows his stuff, from Blephaceridae to Tachinidae. It is very accessible and easy to read, and as the author put it "if you need to pass your exam on zoology, you can read it in one day". There is no identification, no keys, but it gives surprisingly much information on the lifecycle. In two or three cases, the author nearly misses the bend but is saved by the English editor. It is, in the words of the author “an illustrated storybook, not a reference book, so that less prepared people can read it as well”.
And illustrated, it is! Many members of diptera.info forums have contributed to this book by donation of pictures. Tony Irwin, very active on diptera.info, edited the English version, therefore, the articles “the” and “a” are all properly placed! It is great to see dipterologists all over Europe contributing to this Russian textbook.
This book is on the edge of two Russian traditions: dipterology and storytelling. I welcome the English translation of this originally Russian work and hope it will be read and liked outside Russia as much as it was inside. In short, a fun read."
– Theo Zeegers, Dutch dipterist (Bibionidae, Rhagionidae, Tabanidae, Tachinidae), and member of the Fauna Europea team.