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National Insect Week
It’s National Insect Week, so I’m obliged to mention insects at every opportunity. Organized by the Royal Entomological Society, its aim is to promote the study of insects, to encourage the wider world to understand why it is important to study them (gardeners insert your own reasons here), and, I’m afraid, to bemoan the fact that not enough funding or political clout is given to insect study and education.
I’m one of a number of ‘international entomologists’ who has been invited to blog about their daily entomological lives. Quite a few of my compatriots mention teaching, budgets and funding (or lack of). It’s a sad fact that the fascination of bugs and creepy crawlies felt by children during their primary school years has often been squeezed out of them by the time they finish secondary education. And if any of them goes on to university, entomology is often relegated to the technical sidelines or historical footnotes of high-brow biology or environmental science. OK, that’s enough rant for now.
My five-year-old is still enthralled by insects, and was amazed by the bellowing buzz coming from the drain outside our back door recently. Suddenly, a black and yellow insect, large enough to make the rest of the family wince, floated out through the cast iron grill cover. It was a hoverfly. Myathropa florea is a handsome and distinctive fly, both wasp-like in its colours, and honeybee-like in its size, build and vuvuzela buzz.
What was it doing in the drain? It was probably egg laying. This is one of the hoverflies that breeds in the smelly stagnant water you find in flooded rot holes in large trees where branches have fallen off. It also likes nutrient-rich ditches, (especially near farm manure heaps), stinking sulphurous woodland pools full of rotting fallen leaves, and it regularly inspects our over-ripe compost bins.
The larvae are fully aquatic, the so-called rat-tailed maggots. The rat-tail is actually a telescopic breathing siphon, which the larva periodically extends up to the water surface for a gulp of air. Of course, the drain is perfect for it. It receives a tiny dribble of rain run-off from only a very small part of the roof, and gets plenty of organic material from the soil particles and spilled food flushed down when we occasionally hose off the patio. In effect, we have our very own artificial rot hole.
That reminds me. I had a message from a friend a few days ago. She was asking about ‘bees’ living in the drain outside the kitchen window. Now, I wonder…
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