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Insect orders have been defined and stable for decades, with few notable exceptions (e.g., Blattodea and Psocoptera). One of the few remaining questions of order-level monophyly is that of Mecoptera in respect to the phylogenetic placement of Siphonaptera (fleas). We used a large set of transcriptomic nucleotide sequence data representing 56 species and more than 3,000 single-copy genes to resolve the evolutionary history of Antliophora, including fleas (Siphonaptera), scorpionflies and relatives (Mecoptera), and true flies (Diptera). We find that fleas and mecopterans together are the sister group of flies. However, our data and/or analyses are unable to distinguish whether fleas are sister to a monophyletic Mecoptera, or whether they arose from within extant mecopteran families, rendering Mecoptera paraphyletic. We did not detect parameter bias in our dataset after applying a broad range of detection methods. Counter to a previous hypothesis that placed fleas within Mecoptera as the sister group to wingless boreids (snow fleas), we found a potential sister group relationship between fleas and the enigmatic family Nannochoristidae. Although we lack conclusive evidence, it seems possible that fleas represent the most-species rich group of modern mecopterans and that their parasitic lifestyle and morphological adaptations have simply made them unrecognizable in respect to their order-level classification.

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