Saturday, 18 October 2008

Things that aren't wasps

Though it wasn't my intention to begin with, this neatly follows on from Bug Girl's posts Things that aren’t bees (#1) and (#2).

One of my colleagues spotted both male and female Phasia hemiptera along the road at work, so the next day I brought in my camera to try to get some photographs of what is probably one of the UK's prettiest flies. I've since discovered that very few photographs of P. hemiptera do justice to the iridescent blue on the wings, so I don't feel quite so bad about failing to get any photographs over two consecutive days.

Instead I spent my time photographing the abundance of other insects, mainly on hogweed Heracleum sphondylium. Chief among these were hoverflies (Syrphidae), including the species below. Now that colder weather is setting in I'm getting around to dealing with the images.

I'm not an expert and I did not get any of the hoverflies photographed under a microscope, so don't rely on these identifications!

The most abundant hoverfly was Syrphus. I'm certain that I saw female Syrphus ribesii, so I'm assuming that this male (right) is also S. ribesii.

Also present on one day was a male Syrphus with a twisted abdomen (left). Sadly it did not pose especially well, but the shot does show the distorted abdominal tergites. I thought at the time that it might be a stylops, but they do not appear to parasitize flies at all.

Rather similar, but not as common, was Dasysyrphus albostriatus. The individual to the right is a female and shows the distinctive lines on the thorax that provide its name.

Probably the prettiest species present with regular stripes on the abdomen was Eupeodes luniger. This female (left) looked like a flying jewel in the sunshine, with a bluish sheen to the black areas on the abdomen.

Scaeva pyrastri (male, right) has more white or cream coloured stripes on the abdomen.

Another very common hoverfly in the UK, so common in fact that it has a English name, is the marmalade hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus (male left). This is possibly one of the most distinctive hoverflies in the UK, due to the overall shape and the double stripes on each abdominal tergite.

Also very distinctive is Chrysotoxum bicinctum, as it seems to be the only British species with two stripes on the abdomen as shown on the female on the right. I think that C. bicinctum is one of the few species that does a convincing job of looking like a wasp. This is on yarrow Achillea millefolium, rather than hogweed.

Finally, there was Xylota sylvarum. If I had seen this before then I obviously haven't been paying enough attention, as it is large, glossily hairy and attractive, if a little lumbering (there is also the smaller but similar X. xanthocnema). I fell in love with this female so there are two photographs (below, left and right)!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Entomophthora muscae

The largest part of the autumn fungus fruiting season may have passed in the UK, or at least where I live, but there are still a few things around, if you're prepared to look closely for them.

Yes, it's a fly (I don't know which species), but it is a fly with a fungal parasite, Entomophthora muscae. The fungus grows inside the fly, eventually reaching the fly's brain and influencing its behaviour. The fungus needs to get as high as possible to ensure reproductive success, so it forces the fly to climb to the top of a flower, twig or, as in this case, blade of grass and then makes it hold tight. In some cases I've even seen fungal hyphae around the flies proboscis and legs where the fungus has apparently anchored its host (though I suppose this could be a secondary infection in older specimens). The fungus then kills the fly and bursts through its abdomen to shed its spores. These spores are picked up by the wind to infect the next generation of flies.

E. muscae isn't rare by any means, but it does seem to be overlooked. It also seems to be most abundant as it starts to get wetter in autumn, so I find it most years at about this time. Nevertheless, I have very rarely found as perfect a specimen as this.

I know there won't be many others who share this opinion, but I do think that E. muscae is rather awesome.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Blog Action Day: Poverty

This year Blog Action Day is about poverty. 'Keep your post related to your regular blog topic' they say.

However, linking ants to poverty seems impossible. The best I could come up with was a video criticism of a Neocon version of the parable of the ant and the grasshopper which, whilst true, is not exactly interesting or relevant. So I'm moving up to the overarching theme of biodiversity, as there are many links between biodiversity and poverty.

Money is so often made at the expense of the natural world, most often not by locals, who are exploited just as badly as the environment in which they live. However, it doesn't always have to be like this. Anyone who's been watching Bruce Parry's Amazon (which should be everyone, as it's brilliant) will know about the Mamirauá Sustainable Development Reserve, within which local communities are encouraged to live sustainably. The local communities feel that being part of the programme operating within the reserve benefits them and increases their quality of life.

Last year, the United Nations Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC) published a report entitled Biodiversity and Poverty Reduction; The importance of biodiversity for ecosystem services. I'd recommend reading the summary of this report at least. It lists some of the ecosystem services on which the poor are particularly dependent, including:
  • 'Varied diet (including flavourings and micronutrients), famine foods and food security - provided directly by components of biodiversity that are consumed, and through a wide range of biodiversity that is crucial for food production, including that involved in the services of pollination, pest and disease control, and soil fertility.
  • Water quality and availability (including regulation of flooding events), and erosion control - affected variously by vegetative cover at local and landscape scales.
  • Medicines and health, both through the supply of natural medicines, and through the regulation of infections and emerging diseases.
  • Cultural values, closely tied in many societies to components of biodiversity, typically at the species or landscape level.'

One of the main points that the report makes is that the rich can 'buy-in' services when ecosystems stop providing them. The poor cannot do this, so are much more dependent upon greater diversity through a heterogeneous local environment.

Combating both poverty and the loss of biodiversity are two of the greatest challenges to face us in the 21st Century, so it is good that the two are not mutually exclusive. What will probably have to change are current economic policies, as these generally operate at the expense of the poor and biodiversity - though, given the current global financial crisis, maybe now is the time for significant change anyway. Ultimately, we as citizens of rich nations have to make a decision about which is important: other members of our species and the world in which we live, or money. Only one of these will not matter when we are gone.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Absolute genius

This is The BossHoss. Really gimmicky, but genius nonetheless.

If that's not enough, check out their versions of 'Hey Ya!', 'Toxic' and a number of other covers. Before there are any accusations of selling out (which might otherwise be justified) I should point out that they're German.