Screened out, poisoned and lambasted as bad, mean and mighty unclean, flies are friendless.
Yet entomologists at the Australian National Insect Collection in Canberra reckon flies are super stars. One even thinks they're sexy, as people are discovering on small tours of the collection, which holds 12 million inspect species. The tours during National Science Week give a close encounter with many of them.
Dr Bryan Lessard, who named a Queensland horsefly after pop diva Beyonce, admits flies have a bad reputation. Passionate about changing people's perception of flies, Dr Lessard did just that in 2012 when he compared the unique dense golden hairs on the horse fly's abdomen to Beyonce's world famous bottom, and dubbed it the "bootylicious" ambassador for biodiversity. He triggered a global conversation on the importance of flies.
That's only a fraction of the story, but all the good work of flies, like pollinating gum trees and accelerating decomposition, goes unnoticed. They make a lovely meal for frogs and birds too.
"Flies are extremely important decomposers," Dr Lessard said. "If you were to walk in your local park and there were no flies, you would be tripping over all sorts of road kill and rotting logs," he said.
"Flies can help fight disease through uses such as maggot therapy, we can clean rotting flesh wounds by using sterile blow fly larvae.
"Everyone assumes all the flies are the tiny little ones that buzz in your face when you go on a hike," he said. "But there are 159,000 species of flies in the world, they have so many different roles we take for granted," he said.
Tours of Australia's natural history collections show people rather than being museums, they are working collections and resource for research to manage and make use of Australia's biodiversity.
Dr Lessard said the enormous variety of flies in the national collection and butterflies, beetles and flies give people an appreciation of Australia's biodiversity. " You never see this range of species when you step into a national park," he said.
A colleague of Dr Lessard's, and the national collection's director, Dr David Yeates, leads the tours through collection halls, revealing how genomics are transforming the way people use and benefit from natural history collections. Genomics can help understand our biodiversity, where it has come from, how it works and how people can explore, conserve and use it.
The collection has a particular role in biosecurity, when potential insect pests are intercepted at the border.
Dr Yeates' research group is studying the taxonomy and relationships of flies. He is particularly interested in exploring the evolution of Australian insect fauna. Studies are looking at the impact on insects of widespread areas in Australia drying out, millions of years ago.