Welcome to my blog

This is where I post various musings about wildlife and ecology, observations of interesting species (often invertebrates)
and bits of research that grab my attention. As well as blogging, I undertake professional ecological & wildlife surveys
covering invertebrates, plants, birds, reptiles, amphibians and some mammals, plus habitat assessment and management
. I don't work on planning applications/for developers. The pages on the right will tell you more about my work,
main interests and key projects, and you can follow my academic work here.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Unexpected egg-flies

Back in January, my wife showed me a blackbird egg she'd found in the garden. It looked whole, but was incredibly fragile and broke almost as soon as I picked it up, clearly already being cracked. I expected maybe a whiff of something nasty, but there was more going on than I expected...

Inside the egg... lots of invertebrate action.
Naturally, instead of saying 'yuk' and throwing it away, I had a closer look. The orange inveretebrates are mostly fly pupae plus a few larvae. The black shapes are pupal skins of something already emerged, and the large larva in the middle something else entirely. A quick look in Smith (1989) jogged my memory that the smaller ones were probably juveniles of the Psychodidae, also known as moth-flies or owl-midges. The larvae of many species are associated with decaying organic matter, so the inside of a failed egg is a plausible hiding/feeding place whether the goo insode is egg material or something else that had seeped in. Beyond that I couldn't tell, so I put them in a hatchery and waited. After not too many days this is what I found...

Pupae, pupal cases and adults of a psychodid fly.
In total there were 15 pupae and these soon started to emerge as adults. The small size, their shape, and their hairy/feathery wings mean they don't look like typical flies, but that is exactly what they are - as you can see below, they have a single pair of wings, the other pair reduced to drumstick-shaped balance-organs (halteres). Psychodidae are not an easy group to work on (especially if you are not that familiar with them), and identifiying the flies to genus, let alone species, would require time, a microscope, and a copy of Withers (1989). I won't go through all the steps, but here are a few key features:

There are two veins (dashed lines) between the two main forks in the wing veins (circled).
The arrow indicates the eye-bar - an extension of the eye above the antenna. The circle indicates the pale haltere mentioned earlier - yes, these realy are flies!
 The antennae are an important feature too, but take care when keying out genera and species...

The key asks whether the antennal segments are barrel-shaped or have an elongated stalk. These look barrel-shaped but...

...if you remove a segment you can see that the barrel-shape in this case is formed of hairs that hide the real shape - the dark segment clearly has a stalk.
So, after quite a bit of deliberation, this keyed out as the genus Psychoda. I'm less certain about the species (not only can they be difficult to separate, but the taxonomy of Psychoda needs to be revised), but it might be P. alternata (the stripy larva in the first photo matches this, as does the foul habitat). Withers (1989) doesn't list Hampshire for this species, but the Psychodidae are under-recorded, and he does mentioned Wiltshire and Sussex, so it wouldn't be a surprise. That's enough for now - I shall leave you with some more juveniles, feeding/hiding merrily in the goo...

Psychoda - three pupae (complete with a pair of pupal horns for breathing) and a larva.


Smith, K.G.V. (1989). An Introduction to the Immature Stages of British Flies. Handbooks for the Identification of British Insects 10(14): 1-280.
Withers, P. (1989). Moth Flies. Diptera: Psychodiae. Dipterists Digest 4: 1-83.