Landmark Data to Distinguish and Identify Morphologically Close Tabanus spp. (Diptera: Tabanidae)

Insects. 2021 Oct 28;12(11):974. doi: 10.3390/insects12110974.


Tabanus spp., also known as horse flies (Diptera: Tabanidae), are important vectors of several animal pathogens. Adult females of Tabanus megalops and Tabanus striatus, which are members of the T. striatus complex, are morphologically similar and hence difficult to distinguish using morphological characteristics. In addition, molecular identification by DNA barcoding is also unable to distinguish these species. These two species can occur sympatrically with Tabanus rubidus, which is morphologically similar to T. megalops and T. striatus. Wing geometric morphometrics has been widely used in various insects to distinguish morphologically similar species. This study explored the effectiveness of landmark-based geometrics at distinguishing and identifying T. megalops, T. rubidus, and T. striatus in Thailand. Specimens were collected from different geographical regions of Thailand, and only unambiguously identified specimens were used for geometric morphometric analyses. Left wings of females of T. megalops (n = 160), T. rubidus (n = 165), and T. striatus (n = 85) were photographed, and 22 wing landmarks were used for the analysis. Wing shape was able to distinguish among species with high accuracy scores, ranging from 94.38% to 99.39%. We showed that morphologically very close species of Tabanus can be reliably distinguished by the geometry of their wing venation, and we showed how our experimental material could be used as a reference to tentatively identify new field collected specimens.

Keywords: Tabanus megalops; Tabanus rubidus; Tabanus striatus; geometric morphometrics; horse flies; vector.