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May’s wildlife update

Ian has been busy spotting wildlife again. What has he seen?

small magpie moth
Small magpie moth

First of all a small magpie moth. He said he couldn’t remember seeing it before, but maybe its colours are more vivid than has seen other times. It is common throughout Britain but more localised in central and southern Scotland. Its wing span is about 1 inch across (24 – 28mm). It is, like many moths, attracted to light.

The caterpillar feeds from a leaf that has been rolled or spun in August or September. Then the caterpillar makes a tough cocoon to spend the winter. The cocoon is made of silk and they make it in a hollow stem or under bark. The caterpillar, amazingly, doesn’t feed again. It pupates in the same cocoon the following May – 9 months later. So, these moths are seen flying from May to September – there is just one generation every year. It is possible some years to see them early (February) and sometimes late (November). They like to eat nettle (plenty of those!), also bindweed, mints, and horehounds. (You will know horehound if you ever bruise the leaves as they smell really bad!)

Secondly, we give you, what we think, is a Tapered drone fly.

tapered drone fly
Tapered drone fly

Key features here are the fact that its front legs / feet are quite light in colour, the triangular marks on its first segment (under the wings), and it has little orange lines in between the segments of its “bottom”.

It is a type of hoverfly. The larvae live in drainage ditches, pools around manure piles, sewage, and places like that – places with low oxygen and lots of nutrients. They feed on decaying organic matter. The larvae have a little breathing tube (up to several cm long) which reaches up to the surface to get air, because of this, they are sometimes called “rat-tailed maggots”. The adults can be seen flying, similar to the moth above, between February and November. Even in winter they might be seen feeding on ivy flowers.

It looks a bit like a male honeybee. Mimicking a honeybee helps to protect it from predators, while it is searching for nectar. It even tries to mimic honeybee in the way it moves about, flying. This is why they are called a drone fly – they are masquerading as honeybee drones, or workers. Nothing to do with drones in the more moden sense! The drone flies (there are 2 possible ones in the UK) don’t have a waist and it only has 1 pair of wings, which are the key difference that a honeybee would have. Like a honeybee, and so many other insects, it is a good pollinator. Crops and wildflowers, they are regular visitors to a wide variety of flowers!

It is called a tapered drone fly because its abdomen is tapered in shape (this is most obvious in the male). The male might be trying to defend a territory. The females bask on foliage or feed on flowers – the way to tell them apart is that the male’s eyes meet in the centre of the head (!)

tapered drone fly

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