What’s in a name? What’s a Sandfly?

Life cycle of the parasites from the genus Lei...

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When people talk about sand flies it can be very confusing because there are several different bloodsucking insects around the world called sand flies. This is why scientists use latin names for species to avoid confusion.

My work on sand flies that spread Leishmania parasites is on the group of phlebotomine sand flies. The English name of “sand fly” is very confusing for phlebotomines since they dont all live in sand; Brazilian ones may live in the rainforest, no sand in sight and they don’t all live on the beach. In Middle East deserts it may be appropriate.  Both black flies (Simuliidae) and biting midges (Ceratopogonidae) are also known as “sand flies” in various parts of the world. The latter are the ones most likely to be biting people on beaches, particularly members of the genus Culicoides.

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Sand flies, Leishmania and Dinosaurs

Sand flies and other bloodsucking insects have been around for millions of years. They are known to have fed on dinosaurs, there are still reptile feeding sand flie around today. George and Roberta Poinar have studied fossil amber and found 100 million year old sand flies from  amber created in the dinosaur era. These sand flies were found to contain Leishmania parasites in their proboscis; thus Leishmania  might have plagued the dinosaurs and even helped force them into extinction.

A scientific paper giving more details of the technique of examining sand flies in dominicon amber is given in this link….

Lutzomyia adiketis sp. n. (Diptera: Phlebotomidae), a vector of Paleoleishmania neotropicum sp. n. (Kinetoplastida: Trypanosomatidae) in Dominican amber.

My research on sand flies and leishmaniasis

Leishmaniasis is an important disease and the parasite is transmitted by blood-sucking sand flies with approximately two million new cases every year and one tenth of the world’s population at risk of infection.  The WHO give a good introduction about the current situation around the world regarding Leishmaniasis.

Leishmania are  parasites transmitted by the bite of the small midge–like  phlebotomine sand fly.

One of the main ways to control leishmaniasis is to control the insect or disrupt the insect part of the parasite life cycle   but our  knowledge of the sand fly in relation to development of the parasite is inadequate for developing new targets for control.

One of my main projects is to identify the genes  involved in the interaction of the sand fly and the parasite that it transmits and this will greatly extend our knowledge  of the interaction between insect  and Leishmania  and provide a sound basis  for developing new control systems for this disease. We are also involved in field based research examining sand fly biology and the spread of the disease in urban environments in N.E. Brazil.

Short Video clips of sand fly collecting sites in Teresina Brazil.


More backyard sand fly collecting from Rod Dillon on Vimeo.

  • Afghanistan hit by skin disease (bbc.co.uk) People in Kabul are suffering from leishmaniasis; in this case the less serious cutaneous form of the disease. However this causes unsightly skin lesions and carries social stigma and may prevent young girls from finding a suitable partner.
  • Observations of a Nerd Ah, the joys of a tropical getaway. There’s warm, clear waters, soft, sandy beaches, and of course, a whole ton of amazing parasites waiting to gorge on your delicious flesh……..


This is a blog about my interests in science and art and how I am working within and between the boundaries of the two.  There will be posts on my current research on the tropical disease leishmaniasis and the insects (sand flies) that spread the disease and my interests in microbes. Also stuff that interests me where artists are working  on an equal footing and in close collaboration with scientists.

My journey into ‘artscience’ for want of a better word started in Liverpool during Capital of Culture year 2008. I was desperate to do some art work related to my research on tropical diseases; the superlambanana wagon came along and I hitched onto it and got the LSTM to sponsor a lambanana. That was when SuperKalazarlambanana…the name that was far too complicated and everyone mispelt, was created one afternoon between myself and my PhD student Hector Diaz. (see also LSTM page on our lambanana).

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