Charlotte Alberts and Those Fascinating Assassin Flies

Oh, the common names that insects bear...murder hornets, killer bees, cow killers, biting lice, assassin flies...if only those insects knew the violence in their names!

Assassin flies--so fascinating--are also commonly referred to as robber flies, and that's the very insect that UC Davis doctoral alumna Charlotte Herbert Alberts will zero in on when she presents her research at the next UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology seminar.

She'll discuss "Assassin Fly (Diptera: Asilidae) Systematics and Predator Ecology," at 4:10 p.m., Monday, Nov. 13 via  Zoom only. The Zoom link: 

"Assassin flies (Diptera: Asilidae) are a diverse family that plays an essential ecological role as top aerial and venomous predators," she writes in her abstract. "Little is known about the evolution of their predatory habits. This study provides a novel phylogenetic hypothesis of Asilidae along with prey preference and ancestral state reconstruction in a maximum likelihood framework. This study is based on 176 assassin fly species, 35 Asiloidea outgroup species, 3,400 prey preference records accumulated from literature and museum collections, and approximately 7,913 bp of nuclear DNA from five genes (18S and 28S rDNA, AATS, CAD, and EF-1a protein-encoding DNA) and mitochondrial DNA from one gene (COI)."

"Of the 12 asilid subfamilies included in the analysis the monophyly of six was supported," she continued. "We used ancestral state reconstruction and stochastic character mapping to test whether a polyphagous arthropod predator is the ancestral state for Asilidae. Assassin flies are polyphagous arthropod predators, with specialized arthropod prey preferences evolving 20 independently across the Asilidae phylogeny. I will also summarize my other dissertation chapter, a review of Nearctic Saropogon with a new species description."

Alberts, who enjoys systematics, phylogenetics, insect biotechnology, genomics, speciation, and macroevolution,  received her doctorate from UC Davis in 2023. She and her husband, George, and their two children are residents of Silver Spring, Md.

A native of Plainfield, N.H, Charlotte is a 2015 graduate of St. Lawrence University, Canton, N.Y., where she majored in conservation biology and developed an interest in assassin flies--and in celebrating World Robber Fly Day every April 30.

Why assassin flies? “I chose assassin flies because I fell in love researching them as an undergraduate at St. Lawrence University,” she said. "They are fascinating flies and I like that they can immediately change someone's perspective of flies. They are venomous, predatory flies that eat other insects! And they sometimes even look exactly like the creatures they eat. Example: bumble bees!”

Seminar coordinator is Brian Johnson, associate professor, UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. For Zoom technical issues, he may be reached at The list of seminars is posted here