Flesh fly thesis

It’s no longer as recent as I would like, but recently I finished an Honours degree in biology. I wrote my thesis on the influence of nutrition on the lifespan and baby-making skills of flesh flies. It sounds niche, but it is relevant and interesting. Trust me.

Anyway, I was interested in making the cover of my thesis something special to hopefully win over my markers before they got to the content. I did a pen drawing of my study species, Sarcophaga crassipalpis.


The cover looked a bit morbid with a giant black and white flesh fly so I painted it.

Much more appealing…for entomologists maybe.

Well, I guess I’ll briefly explain the significance of the study: Over the last 10 years, a general pattern shows up where dietary protein is associated with increases in reproductive success, but decreases in lifespan.

So for a variety of animals from fruit flies to monkeys to mice, protein is a necessity for them to produce healthy offspring, but in consuming the protein their lifespans are reduced from what they could potentially have reached. Feed fruit flies on a diet with almost all sugar and they live longer than usual, but are unable to produce eggs. 

One interpretation of these findings is that protein leads to early deaths. Enter my research. The study species I used, the flesh fly, consume meat as larvae, and nectar as adults. We were going to compare how flesh flies dealt with experimental diets similar to those used for fruit flies.

1) Sugar was indeed correlated with lifespan and egg production. I.e. diets high in sugar made longer lived flies which were also quite good at producing eggs. And 2) protein was important for egg production, but produced a smaller negative influence on lifespan than with the fruit flies. So it seems that these flies, whether fruit or flesh, have similar dietary requirements, with some slight differences when it comes to protein intake.

It was more of a descriptive study than something that looked into the physiological effects of any nutrients on the body etc. But it does suggest a direction for future research to look at the mechanics of the potential lethal protein immunity.

The full paper can be read in Behavioral Ecology, here.