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Professional Version

Tsetse Flies


Jan Šlapeta

, MVDr, PhD, GradCertEd (Higher Ed), Sydney School of Veterinary Science, The University of Sydney

Reviewed/Revised Aug 2022 | Modified Oct 2022

The tsetse flies, Glossina spp, are important blood-feeding flies found in Africa (latitude 5°N to 20°S). Tsetse flies are narrow bodied, yellow to dark brown, and 6–13.5 mm long. When resting, their wings are held over the back in a scissor-like configuration. The thorax has a dull greenish color with inconspicuous spots or stripes. The abdomen is light to dark brown.

Both sexes are avid blood feeders. One copulation renders a female fly fertile for its lifetime, during which it can produce as many as 12 larvae. It produces one larva at a time, retaining it within its uterus; after ~10 days, the larva is deposited on loose, sandy soil, where it digs in and begins pupation within 60–90 minutes. This pupation period averages ~35 days, after which the adult emerges. Adult flies feed avidly on vertebrate blood approximately every 3 days.

Pathology of Tsetse Flies

Tsetse flies serve as the intermediate hosts for several species of trypanosomes that cause fatal diseases of both domestic animals (nagana) and humans (African sleeping sickness). Trypanosomes invade the blood, lymph, CSF, and various organs of the body, such as the liver and spleen. Nagana, a related complex in cattle due to Trypanosoma brucei, has occurred throughout enormous areas estimated to be as great as one quarter of the African continent. The disease is fatal to horses, mules, camels, and dogs. Cattle, sheep, and goats usually survive, except when parasitized by certain strains. Many wild ungulates native to Africa show no evidence of harm. (Also see Trypanosomiasis in Animals Trypanosomiasis in Animals Tsetse-transmitted trypanosomiasis refers to a group of diseases caused by protozoa of the genus Trypanosoma and affects all domesticated animals. The major veterinary species are T... read more Trypanosomiasis in Animals .)

Diagnosis of Tsetse Flies

Tsetse flies can be identified by their honeybee-like appearance, the long proboscis with its onion-shaped bulb at the base, and the unique wing venation with the characteristic cleaver- or hatchet-shaped cell in the center of the wing.

Treatment and Control of Tsetse Flies

  • Tsetse fly control programs use insecticide sprays along with traps and insecticide-impregnated targets

  • Integrated control campaigns combine insecticides, sequential aerial treatment, and the mass treatment of production animals using trypanocides

Tsetse flies can be controlled by catching and trapping (tsetse traps), bush clearing, fly screens, repellents, and insecticides. Experimental field release of gamma sterilized male Glossina palpalis gambiensis showed promise for an area-wide integrated pest management campaign with a sterile insect component.

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