Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps


Compiler and date details

April 2012 - Greg Daniels, Brisbane

2005 - M. Elliott, Australian Museum, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


The Tabanidae are a large cosmopolitan family of economic and medical importance. Commonly known as horse flies or march flies, they are a common pest of humans and livestock and have been recorded overseas as being responsible for the transmission of diseases such as anthrax, filariasis and trypanosomiasis. Though no Australian records exist of disease transmission to stock or humans (Pechuman & Teskey 1981; Daniels 1989), members of the genus Dasybsis have been shown to transmit the filarioid parasite Pelecitus roemeri (Linstow) (as Dirofilaria roemeri) to wallabies and kangaroos (Spratt 1970).

In Australia, the Tabanidae are represented by three of the four recognised world subfamilies, with 20 genera and 227 species. The entomologist I.M. Mackerras worked on the family extensively between the 1950s and the early 1970s and provides valuable information on the group, though some of the classification has changed in the interim.

The adults are nectar feeders, having been recorded feeding on blossoms of Leptospermum, Melalueca, Grevillea and Didiscus, though the females of most species require blood meals to produce eggs. Not all adult Tabanidae females take blood meals, and while many species are persistent and aggressive in their attempts to obtain blood, others appear to be easily spooked and are somewhat reluctant to press their attacks against humans (Mackerras 1960; Mackerras 1971).

Mackerras (1961) recorded adults of the Pseudotabanus lunulatus or a closely related species (as Mesomyia lunulata group) attacking warm car tyres, perhaps mistaking them for host skin. Additionally, the female of Pseudotabanus trypherus (as Mesomyia (Ps.) tryphera) was recorded as inducing swelling or fever in some of its human victims.

Yeates (1986) collected a female Caenoprosopon trichocerum Bigot guarding an egg mass on a blade of grass, and was able to remove it to a laboratory, where the eggs hatched some time later. The adult died on the same day as the hatching and an attempt was made to rear the larvae, but they survived for only just over a month.

Eggs are laid in a variety of situations from grass blades (Pseudotabanus silvester Bergroth as (Silvius australis Ricardo), foliage overhanging water (Chrysops spp.) or in locations above the habitat of the larvae (Taylor 1917; Mackerras 1955; Yeates 1986). Larvae inhabit a variety of situations from mud, soil and sand (both wet and dry) to holes in trees, where they are predators of invertebrates such as earthworms or other insects.

Lessard (2013) completed the first molecular phylogeny of Australian horse flies, revealing that current distribution of the austral tribe Scionini was most likely caused by a combination of vicariance and long distance dispersal. The phylogenetic framework provided was used to revise the Scionini genera from Australia, New Zealand and South America (Lessard 2014).


General References

Daniels, G. 1989. Family Tabanidae. pp. 277-294 in Evenhuis, N.L. (ed.). Catalog of the Diptera of the Australasian and Oceanian Regions. Honolulu and Leiden : Bishop Museum Press and E.J. Brill 1155 pp.

Lessard, B.D. 2014. Revision of the austral horse fly tribe Scionini (Diptera: Tabanidae). Austral Entomology [printed version: Austral Entomology (2014) 53, 203–239]

Lessard, B.D., Cameron, S.L., Bayless, K.M., Wiegmann, B.M. & Yeates, D.K. 2013. The evolution and biogeography of the austral horse fly tribe Scionini (Diptera: Tabanidae: Pangoniinae) inferred from multiple mitochondrial and nuclear genes. Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 68: 516-540

Mackerras, I.M. 1955. The classification and distribution of Tabanidae (Diptera) II. History: morphology: classification: subfamily Pangoniinae. Australian Journal of Zoology 3: 439-511

Mackerras, I.M. 1960. The Tabanidae (Diptera) of Australia III. Subfamily Pangoniinae, tribe Scionini and supplement to Pangoniini. Australian Journal of Zoology 8: 1-152

Mackerras, I.M. 1961. The Tabanidae (Diptera) of Australia IV. Subfamily Chrysopinae. Australian Journal of Zoology 9: 827-906

Mackerras, I.M. 1971. The Tabanidae (Diptera) of Australia V. Subfamily Tabaninae, tribe Tabanini. Australian Journal of Zoology Supplementary Series 4: 1-54

Morita, S.I. 2008. A phylogeny of long-tongued horse flies (Diptera:Tabanidae:Philoliche) with the first cladistic review of higher relationships within the family. Invertebrate Systematics 22(3): 311-327

Pechuman, L.L. & Teskey, H.J. 1981. Tabanidae. pp. 463-478 in McAlpine, J.F., Peterson, B.V., Shewell, G.E., Teskey, H.J., Vockeroth, J.R. & Wood, D.M. (coordinators) (eds). Manual of Nearctic Diptera. Ottawa : Research Branch, Agriculture Canada. Monograph 27 Vol. 1 674 pp.

Spratt, D.M. 1970. The Synonymy of Agamofilaria tabanicola and Dirofilaria roemeri. Journal of Parasitology 56: 622-623

Taylor, F.H. 1917. Australian Tabanidae (Diptera). No. iii. Proceedings of the Linnean Society of New South Wales 42: 513-528

Yeates, D.K. 1986. Protection of the egg mass by an Australian March Fly (Diptera: Tabanidae). Queensland Naturalist 27(1-4): 41-43


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
22-Mar-2022 TABANIDAE 26-Oct-2021 MODIFIED Dr Bryan Lessard (ABRS)
17-Apr-2014 TABANIDAE 17-Apr-2014 REVIEWED Dr Federica Turco (QM)
27-Apr-2012 27-Apr-2012 MODIFIED
12-Feb-2010 (import)