I received a really interesting parcel today from a friend who holidayed in La Palma earlier this year. He had spotted some Tachina that looked quite different from the run-of-the-mill Tachina fera so he took a few, along with a couple of other tachinids. On close examination, and after taking advice from Peter Tschorsnig, they have turned out to be the Canary Islands endemics: Tachina canariensis & Pales cyanea with the slightly more widespread Pseudogonia fasciata!
Stopped in at Moor Copse on the way home today to check out how high the river is. Well, the answer is – VERY! Tidmarsh village flooded last week, after yet more rain, and one week on the water has receded from the woodland but it is still right up to the top of the river bank.
Just had time to look at a box of Venezuelan tachinids sent to me by my good friend Jose Manuel Ayala. There are plenty of complete unknowns but a few look like familiar friend: a beautifully marked Zelia sp. (#2 on the top row) & Cylindromyia sp, (#5 on the middle row).
They are mainly a nice mixture of typical southern European genera (Gymnosoma, Cylindromyia, & Eliozeta).
Many thanks to Ruud for his generous donation!
EDIT (16/6/2012): The species list so far:
Netherlands: Platymya fimbriata, Tachina fera, Thelaira nigripes.
Crete: Aphria longirostris, Brullaea ocypteroidea*, Eliozeta helluo, Gonia ornata, Peleteria varia.
* = new to me
Here are the last of Alexandru’s batch of Romanian tachinids, caught in 2010. They spent a long time in alcohol so they are not in the best of condition but most of them should be easy enough to identify, I hope! There are lots of Tachina, a few Nowickia, Thelaira, Solieria, Billaea, Ectophasia, one Cylindromyia and absolutely NO Siphona – wohoo!!
EDIT: I have been working the specimens through the keys – starting with Tschorsnig & Richter (1998, the Manual of Palearctic Diptera) to get them to genus and then trying them in a combination of Mesnil in Lindner (Die Fliegen), Cerretti (Tachinids of Italy) and Tschorsnig & Herting (1994, the Central European key), depending on which key I feel gives me the best coverage.
Die Fliegen is old and has some old-fashioned taxonomic arrangements but it has the widest coverage, while Cerretti has more up-to-date keys and a wider scope but perhaps not 100% safe for Romania. T&H is the easiest and most comfortable key for me to use but has the worst range for Romania of the 3, so it is used with caution.
Bithia immaculata* (4), Conogaster pruinosa* (1), Clytiomya continua (1), Cylindromyia pilipes, Cyrtophleba ruricola (1), Demoticus plebejus (many), Dufouria nigrita (1), Ectophasia crassipennis (many), E. leucoptera (1), E. oblonga (1), Eliozeta helluo (1), Exorista nympharum* (1), Exorista rustica agg., Estheria microcera* (2), Gymnocheta viridis (1), Gymnosoma clavatum (2), G. desertorum (1), G. inornatum* (1), G. rotundatum (1), Huebneria affinis (4 reared from Phragmotobia fuliginosa), Labigastera pauciseta* (1), Leucostoma anthracinum (1), Linnaemya picta (1), Loewia erecta (1), L. foeda (2), Lydella lacustris* (1 – under review – tentative ID), Macquartia pubiceps (1), Meigenia mutabilis (1), Microsoma exiguum (1), Mintho rufiventris (many), Nowickia ferox (1), Opesia cana (1), Peribaea tibialis (many), Phania funesta (1), Phasia obesa (1), P. pusilla (2), Phyllomya volvulus (1), Pseudogonia parisiaca* (1), Solieria pacifica (many), Stomina tachinoides* (1), Tachina fera (1), T. magnicornis (many), Thelaira nigripes, Voria ruralis (many), Zeuxia cinerea (2), Zophomyia temula (1) plus 1 “unknown”.
* new to me
That’s a total of 47 species of tachinid (9 of which were completely new to me), from 121 specimens
Last weekend, on a quick (and rather cold) trip to Hartslock, I discovered a 7-spot ladybird that had been attacked by Dinocampus coccinellae, a parasitic wasp. The wasp lives inside the ladybird eating its non-vital organs until it is ready to pupate. Then the wasp larva cuts the nerves to the ladybirds legs so that it cannot move and eats its way out through the underside – all while the ladybird is alive of course. The wasp then spins a cocoon between the beetle’s legs and pupates there while the still living host stands guard over it.
These photos show the host still exhibiting defence mechanisms such as defensive bleeding through the leg joints:
Here are some photos from the Dipterist’s Forum Spring field meeting to Denny Wood in the New Forest.
This week has been a good one for deliveries – today I received a parcel from my friend Yves. This is part of a batch from Nouragues, French Guiana, collected by Stephane Brule a few years ago.
My first impressions are that the material has a lot of dead leaves and it seems to have come from a “window trap”, which is good for beetles but not for flies. Yves says that he got some good wasps out of it.
EDIT (2/3/2012): I have had a look at one of the bottles of material and it was very disappointing – just a mixture of leaves, broken beetles, broken cockroaches, a few ants and some calliphorids, like Mesembrinella. I would have tried to make something out of the mess by salvaging the Mesembrinella but on closer inspection I saw that most of them are missing all of their bristles and quite a few legs and antennae … so not worth the hassle. The samples are going to be topped-up with alcohol and then put into storage in the garage in case I find anyone that wants to have a look at them!!
This is a close-up shot of a typical Nouragues sample – a 2cm thick soup of insect bits and leaves
This week I have been working on a batch of Venezuelan tachinids, kindly sent to me by Manuel Ayala (see right). They are a lovely mixture of species collected my Manuel since the 1960s – all hand netted so they are in quite a good condition.
The highlights of the batch are definitely the male & female Bibiomima handlirschi, a very widespread neotropical tachinid but very rare in collections. See here for a photo of the one in the NHM collection.
Identification of material like this is tricky but I am using Monty Wood’s keys in the Manual of Central American Diptera (volume 2), which are a good basis for work in other neotropical regions but you do have to remember that the name that you reach in the key (at best) should be taken as a potential close relative of your specimen.
The list of name so far reads: Beskia aelops, Bibiomima handlirschi, Belvosia, Quadratosoma, Hystricia, Anepalpus, Bombyliomyia, Jurinella, Epalpus, Parepalpus, Lindigepalpus, Archytas, Cylindromyia, Macromya, Trichopoda, Acaulona, Telothyria, something close to Neosophia, some things close to Calolydella, a Goniini, Winthemia and Chrysoexorista.
I will try to do some close-up photos later
Have just come back from a lovely, relaxing trip to my parent’s for Christmas … lots of chatting, eating and (a little) drinking, all in the beautiful surroundings of deepest Dorset. Mum treated us to a massive array of delicious food and we all pitched in as much as possible. Then when it wasn’t raining we’d take a walk on the local beaches, to beachcomb and look for interesting shells & seeweeds.
* photos of seaweeds & shells to come later
One of the standard ways to test a macro photography set-up is to photograph a butterfly’s wing and then show the image as a crop at the maximum digital zoom. Here are a few photos taken with my EL-Nikkor 50mm f2.8 lens reversed on bellows to give 3:1 magnification on the sensor:
These photographs have just been lightly PhotoShopped (levels, brightness, Smart Sharpen) and then cropped at the maximum level of detail.
Today I went through some of the specimens in my World collection that had been labelled under the siphonine genera (Actia, Borgmeiermyia, Ceromya, Pseudosiphona etc.). Here are some photos:
The Erythomelana is only “possibly” at the moment … it keys to that but I have never seen the genus so I have asked Monty Wood to see what he thinks. Erythromelana isn’t actually a siphonine anyway – it just looks a little like one
Here is a stalk-eyed fly from Western Malaysia, taken at about 3x magnification. The equipment was Canon 1000D + Schneider Componon 35mm f4 lens reversed on bellows racked to 50mm. This is a 19-photo stack processed in Zerene Stacker (PMax method) and then in PhotoShop.
The eyes on this fly are about 4mm apart and almost filled the frame in the photos.
It’s not often that you get this close to the very rare and tiny Microsoma exiguum (3mm), Cinochira atra (2mm) & Catharosia pygmaea (4-5mm). I have been playing around with a Schneider Componon 35mm f4 lens – a new acquisition from eBay for £16 posted. When reversed on bellows and racked out to about 90mm it generates about 4:1 magnification – that’s 4x life size, on the sensor!
The most difficult part is to move the camera in small enough steps that no parts are left unfocused … at magnifications above 2x it gets very difficult indeed. The illumination was made using an old SunPak ring-flash on the left and holding a YN560 above and in front of the specimen – the specimen sits in a polystyrene cup, which acts as both a diffuser and reflector, with a piece of grey card stuck to the back to act as a background.
The stacking has been done using Zerene Stacker – mostly the PMax method but one using DMap … the DMap method tends to produce nicer stacks when it works but it is very hard to configure it to work when the specimen has a lot of bristles.
Here are a few Pelecotheca (Cryptocladocera) sp. stacks. The technique involves taking about 30 photos, each at a different focal point in the specimen and using a macro-rail to slowly move the camera backwards or forwards. The focused parts of each photo are then combined using software called Zerene Stacker (Pmax setting) to make the final image, which looks as though it has an incredibly deep depth of focus – something that would be impossible with normal photography.
The photos were taken using a refurbished 10 megapixel Canon 1000D; Nikkor EL 50mm f2.8 lens reversed on cheap bellows; Yongnuo YN560 flash offset to the right and run on half power. The specimen is enclosed inside a polystyrene cup and the lens has a cardboard lens hood to reduce flare. The photos have been taken at approximately 1.5x life-size on the sensor. This technique and equipment has been used under the guidance of several members on the excellent photomacrography.net forum!
This fly is the male of the species and it can be assumed that the many-branched, hairy (multifissicorn) antennae must be used to locate the females but little is known of their ecology and even the hosts are unknown. They seem to occur throughout northern South America (the Guianas, Brazil & Peru) and belong to a tribe called the Neominthoini, which includes many genera of flies with strong bristles on the facial ridges and quite distinctive genitalia.
These are 3 shots of an Oestrophasia sp. from Brazil – the exposure is slightly off but getting the lighting correct is always the biggest problem in stacking. PhotoShop has made them look passable at least.
A Prosena siberita, showing the plumose arista and long proboscis:
Here are a few shots of the latest stacking setup:
Everything sits on a sticky, yellow, rubber mat that people use to hold rugs down on laminate flooring … the specimen is pinned inside a polystyrene cup which acts as both a diffuser for the flash and reflector which bounces the light around from all directions onto the specimen. A black paper tube has been wrapped around the lens to act as a long lens hood to reduce flare. The rail is hand-cranked in the smallest increments that I can manage with my clumsy fingers and the camera is triggered using a cheap remote shutter release. The JPG images are downloaded immediately onto a PC using the free Canon EOS Utility software and then post-processed in Zerene and PhotoShop
Last Friday I had the pleasure of helping out at the Natural History Museum’s yearly “Science Uncovered” event. For one evening the museum opens its doors until late into the night and scientists that normally work behind the scenes come out to show the public what their work is all about.
On our stand (“Taxonomy 2.0″) Vlad & some of the IT guys were showing off the latest versions of “Scratchpads“, the NHM’s website toolkit for taxonomists. Scratchpads gives taxonomists a framework for creating websites where they can publish information about their research and to collaborate with other taxonomists.
We were also showing the latest SatScan scanner with some of the guys from Smartdrive. The system captures very high-resolution images of museum specimens – usually in museum drawers. A camera moves across the drawer taking small pictures which are later stitched together into a 500MB, 20,000 x 20,000 pixel image. This image can be stored in a permanent catalogue of the museum’s collections and, more importantly, the image of each individual specimen can be cropped out and stored along with metadata that would enable researchers to search for them in the museum’s specimen database. Eventually it is expected that the images will all be made available online – allowing researchers living abroad to search the museum’s reference collections and do basic research without travelling thousands of miles to visit the museum.
I have been helping Vlad to specify and develop the software that grabs the images and that collects metadata associated with each specimen image. It was really good fun to chat to the visitors and to see their enthusiasm for the work we are all doing.
Just a few photos from a quick “recon” visit to Swyncombe Down with Rod d’Ayala, ahead of our guided walk for the Reading & District Nat.Hist.Soc. on Sunday 18th (14:00). The weather was lovely and luckily I bumped into a very interesting chap who was there to repair some horse jumps ahead of their cross-country event. Anyway, while chatting he mentioned a colony of rare snails … big ones … grey shells. Turned out to be a colony of Roman Snail – a very rare species in the UK and this could even be a new site for them!
Interestingly, we also saw lots of plants in flower that traditionally only flower in Spring – such as Chalk Milkwort. I feel this must be due in part to the cold summer and the early ‘finish’ to the summer species – combined with the shortened day-length the plants obviously feel as though it is Spring!
Also seen on the day were: Abida secale (a rare snail of chalk downland), Meadow Brown, Red Admiral, Small Copper, Aplomya confinis (a parasitoid of blue butterflies), Tachina fera, Phania funesta. Atypus affinis (the Purse-web Spider) was also found on a short-cropped, sunny bank. Red Kites were above us for the whole visit and often soaring below us as they quarter the arable fields for food which was fascinating to watch. A pair of Hobby and a Sparrowhawk also flew over as we walked.
All in all a very interesting site to visit – even late in the season
Eggardon Hill is an ancient hill-fort, owned by the National Trust, south of Powerstock Common on the back-road from Beaminster to Bridport. Besides having the best views in the county it is an excellent place to see butterflies and downland flora & fauna.
We saw Wall Brown in good numbers, along with lots of Small Tortoishells, Small Heaths and some Common Blues and Meadow Browns. But the star of the day was spotted by my mum – Autumn Lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) growing on a 50m stretch of the banks just by the entrance gate.
The day started well when I saw a lovely Gold-ringed Dragonfly in the garden in Beaminster. They are a very rare species away from their normal haunts (Scotland, Wales & the West Country) and I had never seen one before.
Later, at West Bexington, we managed to chalk-up quite a list of butterflies (Small Tortoishell, Red Admiral, Common Blues, Brown Argus, Small White, Small Heath, Meadow Brown) and saw lots of Long-winged Coneheads of all sizes.
Tony’s meadow in Cholsey has been a survey site for the Hornet Robberfly (Asilus crabroniformis) because it is the center of a thriving population and he has been monitoring them himself for many years.
Today I went over there with my friend Carim, who had traveled out from London specially to see Asilus. The weather was a bit overcast but there were still plenty of Asilus in the meadow (Tony saw 27 on a transect) and I photographed quite a few tachinids on the Wild Carrot.
The rest of the flies are all tachinids – mostly fairly common summer species but it was nice to find Bithia spreta in Tony’s meadow for the third successive year.