For the love of flies

Marin Harvey teaching on a Learn to Love flies workshop

BioLinks tutor Martin Harvey reports from his recent “Learn to love flies” workshop, which took place on 27 June 2018 at Dinton Pastures in Berkshire.

The BioLinks project has taken a fresh look at how we can encourage people to follow a pathway towards expertise in some of the more neglected insect groups. This pathway starts with the “Learn to love ...” courses, which give people an introduction to a species group and its natural history, without going too far into complex technical terms and concepts.

On a hot and sunny Wednesday in June I had the privilege of guiding an enthusiastic group of people down the path towards a greater love for flies. Flies have a bit of an image problem for some people – with the possible exception of hoverflies, flies are rarely regarded as beautiful animals, and the association with disease and decay that some species have can also be offputting. But, as with all wildlife, once you get to know a bit more about flies the fascination starts to kick in, and soon everyone was busy using nets to get a closer look at a range of fly species in the Dinton Pastures meadows.

Eupachygaster tarsalis at Dinton Pastures (by Martin Harvey)As organiser of the national recording scheme for soldierflies and allies (http://www.brc.ac.uk/soldierflies-and-allies/) I hoped that among our fly finds would be some species covered by the recording scheme. Sure enough, the very first species found was the Broad Centurion Soldierfly, a metallic bronze-green species that especially enjoys visiting flowers of hogweed. This was closely followed by a range of hoverflies, blowflies, houseflies, robberflies, dance flies, snipe flies and more.

What I didn’t realise until after the course was finished was that we had found a rare soldierfly: the Scarce Black (Eupachygaster tarsalis), a tiny dark-coloured soldierfly that has only been recorded about 30 times before in the entire country! This was a new species for me, a new species for Dinton Pastures and only the third ever record for Berkshire. 

This rare soldierfly was caught alongside its very similar much more widespread relative the Dark-winged Black (Pachygaster atra), allowing me to take photos showing the small differences between these two species. These has now been written up for the recording scheme website (http://www.brc.ac.uk/soldierflies-and-allies/pachygastrinae), where it will help others recognise and record both species.

Comparison of female Eupachygaster tarsalis and Pchygaster atra (by Martin Harvey)

Hopefully there was a little more love for flies in the world by the end of our course, which also produced a valuable record of a rare species and a new identification resource to help others – not a bad result for our first steps along the BioLinks learning path!