The Secret Life of Flies

Hardback - April 2017 - AU $15.00 (AU $29.95)
On sale until 29-Feb

Enter a hidden world of snail killers, silly names and crazy sex lives.

In The Secret Life of Flies entomologist Erica McAlister gets under the wings of these crucial creatures as she adventures into the land of the fly. From hungry herbivores and precocious pollinators to robber flies, danceflies and the much maligned mosquito, she describes the different types of fly, their unique and often unusual characteristics, and the unpredictable nature of their daily life. + Full description

Erica travels from the drawers of wonder at the Natural History Museum, London to the mountains of Peru, via underground caves, smelly latrines and the English country garden. She discovers flies without wings, eyes on stalks, rotating genitalia and the terrible hairy fly, while pausing along the way to consider today’s key issues of conservation, taxonomy, forensic entomology and climate change.

Combining her deep knowledge and love of flies with a wonderful knack for storytelling, Erica McAlister allows us to peer – amazed and captivated – into the secret life of flies.

The Secret Life of Flies is suited to insect lovers and natural history enthusiasts.

- Short description


Sales in Australia and New Zealand only. Elsewhere, this title is available through The Natural History Museum (external link).

Listen to author Erica McAlister discuss fly facts in Episode 156 of the No Such Thing As A Fish podcast (external link).


"This is a book that is full of encounters with flies that you may be familiar with and some that you almost certainly won't, but they are all fascinating, bizarre, intriguing and often surprising... The Secret Life of Flies is an irreverent tour of an amazing order, an encyclopaedic collection of stories, anecdotes and musings presented in the author's own uncompromising style with just a hint of English eccentricity."
Peter Smithers, Antenna: Bulletin of the Royal Entomological Society of London, 2017

"The author is very good on all these practical and helpful roles played by flies; but what really makes the book so engrossing is the weird and — let’s be frank — occasionally horrifying behaviours that flies exhibit. There are flies that can eat raw oil and asphalt; others that can survive under the sea, or 5,700 feet down at the bottom of Lake Baikal; and there are even flies in Antarctica, where a quarter-inch midge represents the largest terrestrial animal on the entire continent... after reading her book it is obvious: flies rock."
Mark Cocker, The Spectator, online 8/4/17

"Dr. McAlister has captured her affection for the Diptera in “The Secret Life of Flies,” a short, rich book by turns informative and humorous, both a hymn of praise to her favorite creatures and a gleeful attempt to give readers the willies."
James Gorman, NY Times (online), 14/11/17

"Although I often see species of flies visiting flowers, I had never appreciated the scale of the pollination services that flies provide to plants until reading The Secret Life of Flies... McAlister celebrates the myriad ways that flies have evolved to exploit their environment, and the opportunities they present."
Rowan Mott, Wild Melbourne (blog), 14/6/17

"After reading this book, I'm thinking that flies are the most fascinating insets of all. Every second page of this book has an interesting and, usually, amazing story about a fly family or species... presented in an entertaining, David Attenborough-like style."
Bernie Franzmann, Metamorphosis Australia #86, September 2017, pp. 30-31

"This book about airborne pests gives an unexpectedly good buzz."
Randy Cepuch, Washington Independent Review of Books, online 10/6/17

"This highly readable and often quirky book is a good introduction to an important and often surprising group of insects."
Dan Bickel, Society for Insect Studies Inc. Circular 187, June 2017, pp. 11-12

"Flies have never been the focus of my attention. However, after reading Erica McAlister’s new book, I have a new appreciation for these fascinating insects... she shares her knowledge and enthusiasm for flies with a liberal dose of humour... Its changed how I think about flies — especially when I learned that the entire chocolate industry depends on a tiny little biting midge (Ceratopogonidae) to pollinate the cacao plants. Now thats a fly that I really appreciate!"
Kathy Ebert, Entomological Society of Queensland News Bulletin 45(3), May 2017, pp. 52

"McAlister wasn’t afraid to tell the flies’ story in a populist manner, adding a few anecdotes, humorous remarks which instead of deducting values from the scientifically authoritative text they make it ever so more entertaining, thus more readable."
George Hangay, General and Appplied Entomology 45 2017


Hardback | April 2017 | $ 29.95
ISBN: 9781486308026 | 256 pages | 200 x 130 mm
Publisher: CSIRO Publishing
Colour illustrations


  • Engaging read that gets under the wings of these crucial creatures.
  • Fascinating stories, adventures and science from the world of flies.
  • Written by Erica McAlister, Curator of Diptera at the Natural History Museum, London, and presenter of the popular BBC Radio 4 series Who’s the Pest?


Chapter 1 Introduction
Chapter 2 The Immature Ones (Maggots)
Chapter 3 The Pollinators
Chapter 4 The Detritivores (feeders on dead material)
Chapter 5 The Coprohages (dung/faeces eaters)
Chapter 6 The Necrophages (feeders on dead animals)
Chapter 7 The Vegetarians
Chapter 8 The Fungi Feeders
Chapter 9 The Predators
Chapter 10 The Parasites
Chapter 11 The Sanguivores
Chapter 12 The End


Entomologist Erica McAlister is a curator of diptera at the Natural History Museum, London. All through her life Erica has been interested in the little things – from her early fascination with decomposing cat spoils and their maggot fauna, to picking fleas off cats to study them jumping under a microscope. Erica has studied in France, Australia and Costa Rica and her work with diptera has taken her all around the world. She was also a presenter on the popular BBC Radio 4 series Who’s the Pest?