General Aspects



Sand flies are members of the phylum Arthropoda and belong to the class of Insecta. This class is the largest group of animals with respect to the number of species (~773,000) and individuals. Among other characteristics, three body sections are typical of this class.

As mosquitoes, sand flies are members of the suborder Nematocera. Both members can be recognised by their many segmented antennae, which are usually long. Most of the nematocerans are small, slender and long-legged, usually midge- or mosquito-like in appearance.

Of the about 700 phlebotomine sand fly species, only about 70 are anthropophagous. Phlebotomines are able to transmit viral, bacterial and parasite diseases (Mehlhorn, 2001).

Within the suborder Nematocera, many flies are of economic importance, as pests or even disease vectors. The Nematoceran larvae possess a well-developed head, and most live in water or in moist habitat, being an important item in the food chain of many freshwater fishes as aquatic larvae.

The suborder Nematocera contains a little less than one-third of the North American species of flies, in 23 of the 105 families. Of the about 700 phlebotomine sand fly species, only about 70 are anthropophagous. Phlebotomines are able to transmit viral, bacterial and parasite diseases (Mehlhorn, 2001).




Tracheata (= Antennata)


Insectea (= Insecta, Hexapoda)


Pterygotia (flying insects; here a section with complete metamorphosis)


Dipterida (i.e. two-winged insects)




Phlebotomidae / Psychodidae




The order Diptera, i.e. two-winged flies, is including house-flies, stable-flies, blue-bottles, tsetse-flies and many others

The hind wings in this order are modified as the halteres, small organs that vibrate during flight and are believed to have a gyroscopic function providing a constant flight attitude.


The suborder Nematocera is including midges, sand flies, black flies, mothflies, harlequin-flies and mosquitoes.


The family Phlebotominae / Psychodidae includes biting sand flies in diverse genera (see below) and non-biting owl-midges or moth flies in the genus Psychoda.

The psychodids are small to minute, usually very hairy, moth-like flies that hold their wings roof-like over the body when resting. The adults occur in moist, shady places. These flies are sometimes highly abundant in drains or sewers. Their larvae occur in decaying vegetable matter, mud, moss, or water.

Subfamily and Genera

Within the subfamily Phlebotominae there are about 700 species of phlebotomine sand flies. The number of genera is depending on the hierarchical classification adopted, but according to the most widely accepted concept, six genera exist: Phlebotomus, Sergentomyia and Chinius in the Old World and Lutzomyia, Brumptomyia and Warileya in the New World. Only sand flies in the genera Phlebotomus and Lutzomyia are proven vectors of Leishmania, though in other genera man-biting flies also occur.

Diverse subgenera within the different genera exist. An overview over different species with their according subgenera is listed below.



  • Mehlhorn, H.: Sand flies. In: Mehlhorn, H. (ed.): Encyclopedic reference of parasitology. Biology, structure, function. 2nd edn., Springer Verlag, Berlin, pp. 563-565, 2001

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