Wombat flies are tiny native Australian flies belonging to the tribe (a taxonomic classification between genus and family) Borboroidini.
Entomologists have known for some time that many undescribed species of these little flies existed in the vast collections of the Australian Museum and Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). What they didn't know was where to find them in the wild or anything about their preferred habitat or behaviour.
Recently a breakthrough discovery was made that may help to answer these questions. Researchers found that many species of this little-known group of flies are attracted to wombat dung and are most prevalent where there are wild wombat populations. This discovery has allowed entomologists at the Australian Museum to obtain better study collections and subsequently many new species of wombat fly have been discovered. The number of described species has been bumped up from two before the discovery to at least 24 at the present time, with over 90 per cent of these still to be described and named.
Preliminary experiments show that the larvae of at least some species of wombat fly can live and develop in wombat dung. These findings suggest that a significant number of Australia's native insect fauna could be dependent on our native vertebrates for their continual survival. In particular it shows the importance of conserving the natural populations of wombats not just for the sake of the wombats but to conserve the wombat fly fauna as well. It is intriguing to consider the possibility that Australia may have had a much richer and more diverse fauna of Borboroidini when the giant wombat-like Diprotodon abounded about 100,000 years ago.
Acknowledgement is made to Damien Stanioch and the wombats of Wonderland Sydney for the supply of wombat dung for this project.
Dr. Shane McEvey