The fly who looked like a dog

Is it a dog or a fly?

Is it a fly or is it a dog?

Once upon a time there was a fly called Conopid. Well, that was her family name. To most people she was a thick-headed fly. To her mates she was just plain Myopa as no one really knew if she was Myopa pellucida or Myopa tessellatipennis. Unfortunately, to determine her true identity she would have to be dissected and slid under a microscope and she didn’t want that. Myopa spent her days hanging around on flowers waiting for solitary bees to parasitize – she was rather proud that her abdomen, which acted like a can opener, could pry open the segments of a bee’s abdomen to insert her egg. She particularly liked Andrena bees and Warwick Gardens was full of them. But sometimes Myopa felt ‘overlooked’ as she realised her family weren’t that well studied. She knew she was rather aesthetically-challenged, which meant it was unlikely she was ever going to appear on the front cover of BBC Wildlife Magazine. At the very most she could hope to find herself being discussed in a specialist Conopid recording scheme. Most of all she was well aware that her lifestyle was rather repellent to bee lovers. But Myopa wanted to be noticed and she contemplated this as she took a rest on a sycamore leaf.

Then one day a photographer did notice her. Word on the ground was she was a very friendly photographer and not going to sweep you up in a net and pop you in a pot. Myopa had heard legendary tales about other insects who had been photographed and showcased on the world wide web. Some had even been published on blogs and in magazines! This was her chance for some fame. Myopa sat very still as the camera loomed in, determined not to fly off as the shutter came down again and again. She knew she was looking her best as she posed for her portrait.

And then it happened. Myopa was all over the internet, on Facebook and Twitter, and she was liked by lots of people. She was ‘awesome’ and ‘fabulous’ and ‘cute’. And she didn’t mind that she looked like a ‘Disney dog’ or ‘Fido’ or a ‘Cartoon dog’ because now she had a starring role in a blog and lots of people knew who she was. She had her 15 minutes of fame, and she had been talked about. Contented, Myopa flew off and lived happily ever after.

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Hipster flies

Peckham used to be relatively free of hipsters until the Overground started to spit them onto our streets, transported from their spiritual home in Shoreditch and no doubt digging the irony of being in south London. They are a strange cultural subset, looking rather like bored lumberjacks in limbo cycling around the forest-free streets in their checked shirts, skinny jeans and large spectacles. Their beards seem to sit uncomfortably on the face as if the fashion dictat threw them a cynical reason to make us all laugh. Or is that the irony?

The dapper Gymnosoma rotundatum

The dapper Gymnosoma rotundatum

To be fair, Gymnosoma rotundatum is more of a dandy than a hipster. But it does have a beard! Decked out in a dashing black shirt and bright orange pants with three black spots down its back, like large buttons, gives rise to its common name the ladybird fly. Rather than cycling it flits around Warwick Gardens, stopping on leaves and flowers and taking time to pose for photos. It belongs to the Tachinid family of flies. Tachinids are parasitic and ours has a preference for shield bugs. They lay their eggs on the bug and when the eggs hatch, the larvae bore into the body and feed off the insides. When they are ready to pupate they crawl their way back out and into soil. Rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle!

Fly of the day: Conopid fly

Conopid fly - Physocephala rufipesThe park is looking rather brown after all the recent sun. There are very few flowers apart from yarrow and a scattering of mallow, and the last remnants of thistles have seeded and spewing fluffy spores all over the place. The brambles are heavy with fruit and the hawthorn berries are slowly ripening a deep red colour. But there is a flash of yellow that stands out in the middle of all the brown – ragwort. Its only a small patch, just nine plants, and it is a feast of pollen for flies and bees.

The conopid fly is a regular visitor to this patch. It’s more commonly known as a thick-headed fly and is rather ugly looking. It is a parasitic fly and lays its eggs in bees and wasps. This one – Physocephala rufipes – parasites bumblebeesThe eggs are often inserted by the female fly between the bumblebees’s body segments while in flight, and they hatch out soon afterwards. The larvae eat the bee from the inside.