Insect of the Month (January): Camel fly, Hippobosca camelina

The year 2020 marks the 50th anniversary of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (icipe). 

icipe was established in 1970 by the late internationally renowned Kenyan scientist, Prof. Thomas Risley Odhiambo, at a time when the very notion that insect science – or indeed, the then woefully small indigenous scientific communities – could contribute to a prosperous future for Africa must have seemed audacious to say the least.

icipe has progressed and flourished just as envisioned. Today, the Centre stands as a source of pride for Kenya and for Africa, with well-deserved regional and international acclaim as the only institution on the continent working primarily on insects and other arthropods, and a hub of scientific excellence and capacity building. 

This esteem has been achieved through unwavering commitment to the Centre’s original vision of elevating the lives of communities across Africa, by providing solutions that are environmentally safe, pre-empt the use of harmful chemicals, are affordable, accessible and easy-to-use, for the management of pests of crops, and disease transmitting insects. Moreover, our science-led strategies are helping communities, especially those in marginalised areas, to exploit beneficial insects, like bees and silkworms, while protecting the environment. We have also pioneered research in the exciting area of insects as alternative sources of food for people and feed for livestock, and other uses like organic waste conversion. Our holistic approach contributes to improving household and national incomes, employment and nutritional security of many people in Africa, transforming livelihoods in an inclusive manner, especially for women and the youth.  

Our golden jubilee is embodied in the slogan: ‘Insects for Life’ – a dual expression of the interlinkage between icipe 4H research approach that encompasses: Human, Animal, Plant and Environment Health; and the unwavering commitment of the Centre to its vision and mission. In tandem, we are running an Insect of the Month series that provides an illustration of intricate interlinkage between insects and livelihoods, in Africa and beyond.

Camel fly, Hippobosca camelina

Hippobosca camelina, also known as camel fly or camel ked, feeds only on blood and is present year-round in dry and humid areas. Its major host is the camel but they can also feed on goats, sheep, cattle, wild animals and humans. Because of its blood feeding habit on different domestic and wild animals, it is a vector of many pathogens including African trypanosomes and Anaplasma, the two most economically important pathogens of domestic animals. There are about 15 million camels in the Horn of Africa region, the largest concentration globally. Camels are resilient yet under-researched animals for marginalized communities coping with climate change, where they provide meat and milk. Diseases transmitted by the camel fly cause loss of productivity and abortions in camels. icipe’s study of biting flies, such as the camel fly, is geared toward improving livestock health, with a focus on the smallholder farmer. 

Camel fly, Hippobosca camelina
Camel fly, Hippobosca camelina