Bulletin de la Société royale belge d’Entomologie/Bulletin van de Koninklijke Belgische Vereniging voor Entomologie, 149 (2013) : 150-159
Distribution and ecology of soldier fly larvae captured in Flemish
surface waters (Diptera : Stratiomyidae)
Koen LOCK1, Ton VAN HAAREN2, David TEMPELMAN2, Frédéric CHÉROT3 & Tim ADRIAENS4
1 eCOAST Marine Research, Esplanadestraat 1, B-8400 Oostende (e-mail : Koen_Lock@hotmail.com)
2 Grontmij, Ecology Team, P.O. 95125, 1090 HC Amsterdam, The Netherlands
(e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org ; email@example.com)
3 Département de l’Etude du Milieu naturel et Agricole, DG03, Service Publique de Wallonie, 23 avenue
Maréchal Juin, B-5030 Gembloux (e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org)
4 Research Institute for Nature and Forest, Kliniekstraat 25, 1070 Brussel, Belgium
(e-mail : Tim.Adriaens@inbo.be)
To assess the ecological water quality in Flanders, macroinvertebrates have been collected by the
Flemish Environment Agency (VMM). During the present study, larvae of soldier flies collected
between 1997 and 2009 were identified to species level. In total, 722 specimens were identified,
belonging to 18 different species. Oxycera meigenii Staeger, 1844 and Oxycera pardalina Meigen,
1822, two species from calcareous running water, are reported here for the first time from Flanders.
Most species were found in waters with a moderate conductivity, however, a few were also found in
waters with a high conductivity. Some species were only found at high oxygen levels, but most species
also occurred at moderate concentrations. Almost all species were found in small streams, but larger
watercourses and lakes also contained several species. Soldier flies were quite rare in
macroinvertebrate samples and when present, they occurred at low densities. Most species did not
seem to be indicators of (good nor bad) ecological water quality.
Keywords : distribution maps, Flanders, macroinvertebrates, Oxycera pardalina, Oxycera meigenii.
Macroinvertebraten werden bemonsterd door de Vlaamse Milieumaatschappij (VMM) voor het
beoordelen van de ecologische waterkwaliteit. Tijdens deze studie werden de larven van wapenvliegen
die werden gevangen van 1997 tot 2009 tot op soortniveau gedetermineerd. In totaal werden 722
individuen gedetermineerd, die behoorden tot 18 verschillende soorten. Oxycera meigenii Staeger,
1844 en Oxycera pardalina Meigen, 1822, twee soorten van kalkrijke stromende wateren, worden hier
voor het eerst uit Vlaanderen gemeld. De meeste soorten werden gevonden in water met een matige
conductiviteit, maar enkele soorten kwamen ook voor bij hoge waarden. Enkele soorten werden enkel
waargenomen in water met een hoge zuurstofconcentratie, maar de meeste soorten werden ook
gevonden bij matige zuurstofniveaus. Bijna alle soorten werden waargenomen in kleine beken, maar
grotere waterlopen en meren bevatten ook verschillende soorten. Wapenvliegen waren vrij zeldzaam
in stalen van macroinvertebraten en indien aanwezig was dit in lage aantallen. De meeste soorten
leken geen indicatoren voor (goede noch slechte) ecologische waterkwaliteit.
Dans le cadre de l’évaluation de la qualité écologique des eaux de surface en Flandre, des
macroinvertébrés ont été capturés par la Société flamande pour l’Environnement (VMM). Au cours de
cette étude, les larves des Stratiomyidae capturées entre 1997 et 2009 ont été déterminées jusqu’au
niveau de l’espèce. Au total, 722 spécimens appartenant à 18 espèces ont été identifiés. Oxycera
meigenii Staeger, 1844 et Oxycera pardalina Meigen, 1822, deux espèces des eaux courantes
calcaires, sont rapportées ici pour la première fois de Flandre. La plupart des espèces ont été trouvées
dans des eaux de conductivité modérée, mais quelques-unes étaient aussi présentes dans des eaux de
conductivité élevée. Quelques espèces ont été observées seulement dans des eaux bien oxygénées,
mais la plupart sont également présentes dans des eaux moyennement oxygénées. Presque toutes les
espèces ont été trouvées dans des petites ruisseaux, mais des cours d’eau plus grands et des eaux
stagnantes hébergeaient également différentes espèces. Les Stratiomyidae étaient en général assez
rares dans les échantillons de macroinvertébrés et lorsqu’ils étaient présents, c’étaient toujours en
nombre bas. La plupart des espèces ne semblent pas des indicateurs de (bonne ni mauvaise) qualité
Habitat destruction and degradation, pollution, flow modification and invasion by alien species
reduced fresh waters biodiversity much more than most affected terrestrial ecosystems. Flanders has
made considerable progress in reducing water pollution from domestic and industrial point sources,
however, threats from excessive nutrient enrichment are still present (VMM, 2010) and the number of
alien species keeps rising (MESSIAEN et al., 2010). Until present, river management in Flanders has
mainly been conducted at the river basin level by installing wastewater treatment plants and imposing
standards for effluent concentrations. Although these measures already resulted in a significant
improvement of the chemical and ecological water quality since the eighties (VMM, 2010), most
Flemish water bodies still lack the good ecological status which is required by 2015 by the European
Union Water Framework Directive (WFD) (EUROPEAN COUNCIL, 2000).
Multiple threats affect surface waters in Flanders. Flanders has a very high population density of
456 citizens per km², about 88% of the households is connected to a sewage system, but only 70.3% is
actually treated (VMM, 2009). Because rainwater is often not collected separately, untreated water is
regularly discharged after heavy rains, resulting in problematic drops in dissolved oxygen
concentration and peak levels of substances such as ammonium. Flanders is also heavily industrialised
and exhibits (mainly intensive) agriculture on 53% of the land (VMM, 2009). In addition, structural
integrity of surface waters is threatened by thousands of weirs that have been built for flood control,
hundreds of kilometres of artificial banks that have been installed and the majority of river channels
To assess the ecological water quality, the use of biotic indicators (macrophytes, phytoplankton,
phytobenthos, fish fauna and macrobenthic fauna) is required by the WFD. The Multimetric
Macroinvertebrate Index Flanders (MMIF) was recently developed to meet the requirements of the
WFD (GABRIELS et al., 2010). This is a type-specific multimetric index consisting of five equally
weighted metrics : taxa richness, the number of EPT-taxa (Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera and
Trichoptera), the number of other sensitive taxa, the Shannon-Wiener diversity index and the mean
Soldier fly larvae can be either terrestrial, semi-aquatic or aquatic. Terrestrial larvae can be found
under bark, in soil, among dead leaves, in compost, in dung and one species even in ant nests. Semi-
aquatic forms occur in moist moss along streams and springs. Aquatic larvae such as Odontomyia,
Oplodontha, Oxycera and Stratiomys live in stagnant and running waters, especially where there is an
abundant growth of floating algae. Larvae have a flattened body and a protruding highly sclerotised
head. The two-segmented antennae are usually inconspicuous. The thick cuticle shows a mosaic
appearance due to calcareous deposits of calcium carbonate, which enables them to survive during
periods of drought, high salinity or moderate pollution. Aquatic larvae often possess a coronet of
pinnate float-hairs on the posterior end. Larvae are microphagous : they feed on micro-organisms,
algae and periphyton, which they scrape from the substrate with specialised mouthparts. Soldier flies
hibernate in the larval stage and emergence occurs in spring or early summer. Pupation takes place in
the cuticle of the last larval stage. The distribution of soldier flies in Belgium is still poorly known, as
can be deduced from the low number of records for most species (BRUGGE, 2002). During the present
study, the larvae of soldier flies captured by the Flemish Environment Agency were identified to
species level and their presence was linked to the measured environmental parameters.
Material and Methods
In the context of water quality monitoring, the Flemish Environment Agency sampled
macroinvertebrates at several thousand sampling points. Macroinvertebrates were sampled using a
standard handnet as described by GABRIELS et al. (2010). A stretch of 10-20 m was sampled for
approximately five minutes. Sampling effort was proportionally distributed over all accessible aquatic
habitats, including bed substrate (stones, sand or mud), macrophytes (floating, submerging, emerging),
immersed roots of overhanging trees and all other natural or artificial substrates, floating or submerged
in the water. Each aquatic habitat was explored in order to collect the highest possible richness of
macroinvertebrates. For this purpose, kick sampling was performed. In addition to handnet sampling,
animals were manually picked from stones, leaves and branches.
Conductivity, dissolved oxygen and pH were measured in the field during each sampling event.
Other chemical variables (content of ammonium, nitrite, nitrate, Kjeldahl nitrogen, orthophosphate,
total phosphorus, chemical and biological oxygen demand) were retrieved from monitoring data of the
chemical water quality, which is also performed by the Flemish Environment Agency. As the chemical
monitoring, which is usually performed on a monthly basis, was not performed simultaneously with
macroinvertebrate sampling, measurements from the last date before macroinvertebrate sampling were
used. The slope of a watercourse was determined based on the difference in height between two points
1000m apart using GIS-software applied on the Flemish Hydrographic Atlas (AGIV, 2006). The same
database was used to determine the sinuosity on a stretch of 100m.
The Flemish Environment Agency identifies Diptera larvae only to family level. During the present
study, all sampled larvae of soldier flies were identified to species level by using the identification
keys developed by ROZKOŠNÝ (1973, 1982, 1983, 2000). A direct gradient analysis was applied to
determine which environmental parameters might be responsible for the differences in species
composition, since environmental variables were explicitly incorporated in the analysis. To test
whether a linear or unimodal method was needed, a Detrended Correspondence Analysis (DCA) was
performed (TER BRAAK, 1988). Since the Length of Gradient was greater than four, a unimodal
method was needed and therefore, the Canonical Correspondence Analysis (CCA) was applied (TER
BRAAK, 1988). A log-transformation (log (x+1)) was applied prior to the CCA to normalise the data.
Only the seven most explanatory environmental variables were used for the CCA. Microchrysa polita,
Oxycera nigricornis and Stratiomys cf. potamida were not included in the gradient analysis, because
these species never co-occurred with other species.
During the present study, 722 soldier flies were identified belonging to 18 different species
(Table 1). Two of these, Oxycera meigenii and Oxycera pardalina, are reported here for the first time
from Flanders. O. meigenii was encountered on 3.IV.2002 in the Dorenbosbeek in Brakel, on
26.IV.2004 in the Terkleppenbeek in Brakel and on 12.V.2004 in the Voer in Voeren. Larvae of
O. meigenii can be recognised by the absence of a pair of posterior hooks on the ventral side of the
penultimate abdominal segment, the presence of two pairs of thickened setae on the ventral side of the
penultimate abdominal segment just above the middle in addition to the usual row of hairs just below
the middle and the anal segment being rounded posteriorly (Fig. 1). O. pardalina was encountered on
four occasions in the forest Hallerbos : on 26.VI.2002 and 9.V.2008 in the stream Kapittelbeek in
Beersel and on 13.IV.2004 and 17.IX.2004 in a tributary of the Kapittelbeek in Halle. Larvae of
O. pardalina can be recognised by the presence of a pair of - not especially long - posterior hooks on
the ventral side of the penultimate abdominal segment, the presence of a pair of thickened setae on the
ventral side of the penultimate abdominal segment just above the middle in addition to the usual row
of hairs just below the middle and the anal segment being longer than the width at its base and has
pointed posterolateral angles (Fig. 2).
Stratiomys cf. potamida could not be identified with certainty because it is very similar to
Stratiomys chamaeleon (Linnaeus 1758) and the diagnostic hairs on the head were damaged.
Table 1. Sampled soldier flies (Diptera : Stratiomyidae), with indication of the number of samples per water type
where each species was found.
River type :
course Lake Total
Catchment area :
< 50 km² < 50 km² Not
Beris clavipes (Linnaeus, 1767) 2 1 5 1 96 5 1 2 113
Chloromyia formosa (Scopoli, 1763) 3 4 2 6 58 8 3 5 89
Microchrysa flavicornis (Meigen, 1822) 1 6 1 1 9
Microchrysa polita (Linnaeus, 1758) 1 1 2
Odontomyia ornata (Meigen, 1822) 3 3
Odontomyia tigrina (Fabricius, 1775) 2 3 7 2 6 20
Oplodontha viridula (Fabricius, 1775) 3 6 2 2 55 3 15 5 91
Oxycera meigenii Staeger, 1844 3 3
Oxycera morrisii Curtis, 1833 3 5 1 9
Oxycera nigricornis Olivier, 1812 1 2 3
Oxycera pardalina Meigen, 1822 4 4
Oxycera trilineata (Linnaeus, 1767) 12 7 2 21
Pachygaster atra (Panzer, 1798) 1 2 17 11 1 1 33
Pachygaster leachii Curtis, 1824 5 11 1 17
Sargus iridatus (Scopoli, 1763) 1 1 8 1 1 12
Stratiomys longicornis (Scopoli, 1763) 2 1 2 5
Stratiomys cf. potamida Meigen, 1822 1 1
Stratiomys singularior (Harris, 1776) 6 3 9
Number of species 6 7 8 3 18 7 10 9 18
Fig. 1. Ventral side of the posterior end of the abdomen of Oxycera meigenii Staeger, 1844 (photograph by Koen
Fig. 2. Ventral side of the posterior end of the abdomen of Oxycera pardalina Meigen, 1822 (photograph by
However, since the species was found in a small stream, it was considered more likely to be
S. potamida because S. chamaeleon usually lives in stagnant waters.
Of the 443 records, 78% consisted of only one specimen, while in hardly 4%, more than 5
individuals were sampled. Nearly all species were encountered in small brooks, but most species also
occurred in larger watercourses or lakes (Table 1). Soldier flies were mostly found in waters with a
moderate conductivity (Fig. 3A). Some species such as Odontomyia tigrina, Oplodontha viridula,
Oxycera trilineata and Stratiomys singularior often occurred in waters with high conductivities. A few
Fig. 3. Box & Whisker
lots of the conductivity (A) and the oxygen concentration (B) for the encountere
species, including O. pardalina and O. meigenii, were only found in well oxygenated watercourses,
however, most species also occurred in waters with lower oxygen concentrations (Fig. 3B).
In the Canonical Correspondence Analysis with the seven most explanatory variables, the first axis
(Eigenvalue of 0.30) coincided mainly with high values of conductivity and low values of slope,
oxygen and nitrate (Fig. 4). The second axis (Eigenvalue 0.12) coincided mainly with a high values of
nitrite and biological oxygen demand and low values of conductivity, phosphorus and slope. Species
from running waters, such as O. meigenii and O. pardalina, were plotted on the left side of the biplot,
while stagnant water species from the genera Stratiomys and Odontomyia were plotted on the right.
Distribution maps of the observations of the 18 species encountered in Flanders are presented in
It should be noted that the range of conductivities and oxygen concentrations at which the different
species were found (Fig. 3), gives only a reflection of the environmental conditions in their habitat. It
is expected that soldier fly larvae are usually not directly affected by the conductivity and the oxygen
concentration of the water.
During the monitoring of the ecological water quality by the Flemish Environment Agency,
18 species of soldier flies were sampled. This is only a small portion of the 47 species that have been
reported from Belgium (POLLET & GROOTAERT, 1991 ; BAUGNÉE, 2003). This can be explained by
the fact that a lot of soldier fly larvae are terrestrial or semi-aquatic, while only a few species are
aquatic. MEURISSE et al. (2011) reported also larvae of Oxycera rara (Scopoli, 1763) from the
Flemish stream Schoorbroekbeek in Hoegaarden. The latter species was apparently missed during the
sampling of the Flemish Environment Agency. Four rare aquatic species are also known from
Flanders, but were not found during the present study : Odontomyia angulata (Panzer, 1798),
Odontomyia argentata (Fabricius, 1794), Oxycera analis Meigen, 1822 and Stratiomys chamaeleon
(Linnaeus, 1758) (BRUGGE, 2002).
Two species are reported here for the first time from Flanders : O. pardalina and O. meigenii. Both
species are associated with aquatic mosses and live along springs with calcareous water (ROZKOŠNÝ,
1983). Both species had previously been recorded from Wallonia and the Netherlands (BRUGGE, 2002)
and were also reported from calcareous streams in the southernmost part of the Netherlands (KORSTEN
& VAN MAANEN, 2010). Their presence in Flanders could therefore be expected.
Fig. 4. Canonical Correspondence Analysis biplot of the species scores and the environmental variables
biological oxygen demand, conductivity, phosphorus, slope, oxygen, nitrate and nitrite.
O. tigrina and O. ornata could not be identified accurately with the existing identification keys
(ROZKOŠNÝ, 1973, 1982, 1983, 2000). According to those keys, the penultimate segment of O. tigrina
does not bear any posterior hooks ventrally. However, during the present study, most specimens bared
at least one pair of hooks on the penultimate segment and in most cases also on the segment before
that. O. ornata can be distinguished by the presence of larger yellow-brown hooks (Fig. 6), while
those hooks, if present, are smaller and blackish in O. tigrina (Fig. 7). In addition, O. ornata is a
slender species : the last segment is more than two times as long as wide (Fig. 6), while the last
segment is less than two times as long as wide in O. tigrina (Fig. 7). However, O. ornata can be most
easily recognised because it is sparsely covered with long hairs (Fig. 8), while O. tigrina is densely
covered with short hairs (Fig. 9). Finely, the setae Lb2 are branched in O. ornata (Fig. 10), while the
setae Lb2 is a simple finely serrated hair in O. tigrina. The presence of hooks is not only variable in
O. tigrina : in the Netherlands, it was found that these hooks were sometimes present in O. trilineata
as well. Specimens of O. trilineata bearing hooks cannot be identified accurately with the existing
identification keys, but can still be recognised by the number of thickened setae on the ventral side of
the penultimate abdominal segment and the shape of the spiracular plates.
Fig. 5. Distribution of the encountered soldier flies in Flanders, with indication of the ecoregions and a grid o
10x10 km UTM-squares.
Fig. 6. Ventral side of the posterior end of the abdomen of Odontomyia ornata (Meigen, 1822) (photograph by
Fig. 7. Ventral side of the posterior end of the abdomen of Odontomyia tigrina (Fabricius, 1775) (photograph by
Fig. 8. Habitus of Odontomyia ornata (Meigen, 1822) (photograph by Koen Lock).
Fig. 9. Habitus of Odontomyia tigrina (Fabricius, 1775) (photograph by Koen Lock).
Fig. 10. Lateral side of the head of Odontomyia ornata (Meigen, 1822) with indication of the seta Lb2
(photograph by Koen Lock).
MEURISSE et al. (2011) identified the soldier flies sampled during the monitoring of the ecological
water quality in Wallonia. They did not found Microchrysa flavicornis, Odontomyia ornata, Oxycera
meigenii, Pachygaster leachii, Sargus iridatus, Stratiomys potamida and Stratiomys singularior, but
instead, they recorded Beris vallata (Forster, 1771), Oxycera leonina (Panzer, 1798) and Oxycera rara
(Scopoli, 1763). However, their records of Sargus bipunctatus (Scopoli, 1763) and Odontomyia
angulata (Panzer, 1798) turned out to be misidentified specimens of Chloromyia formosa and
Oplodontha viridula, respectively.
We would like to thank the Flemish Environment Agency for the opportunity to study their collections. For the
help during the study of the collections, we would like to thank Rose SABLON, Yves SAMYN and Thierry
BACKELJAU from the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences. We thank Cécile Herr for revising the French
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