All this week we’ve been celebrating National Insect Week 2016 and to round off the final day RSPB’s Will George gives an insight into surveying a rather rare insect.
I've spent the last two weeks in the beautiful Highlands of Scotland on the trail of a rare and enigmatic creature, the pine hoverfly. This beautiful little fly is a specialist of the ancient pine forests of northern Scotland, and as these forests have declined, so have these flies. Now pine hoverflies are known to occur at just one site. The RSPB, in partnership with Scottish Natural Heritage and the Malloch Society has been trying to help pine hoverflies by providing the species with some custom made homes in the form of specially cut pine stumps, with a hole in the centre for the flies to lay their eggs in. These stumps have been created where the hoverflies are still known to occur, and also at a couple of new sites, including RSPB Scotland Abernethy where the pine hoverfly used to occur, and a reintroduction was attempted a few years ago.
My aim was to survey all of these sites to see if I could find the adult flies, which are distinctively marked in black and red. Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate at first; heavy rain and temperatures in single figures are not good news for hoverflies or hoverfly surveyors! Things improved this week, and I've spent many happy hours in some beautiful locations, seeing lots of wonderful insects. These have included some highland specialities like the impressive bumblebee robberfly, one of the largest flies in the UK, and the beautifully camouflaged longhorn beetle Rhagium inquisitor, whose larvae munch their way through dead Scots pines.
Unfortunately, as my time in Scotland comes to a close I haven't been able to find any pine hoverflies; perhaps the cold weather last week meant they're late emerging this year, or maybe they emerged early this year, and the bad weather was too much for the adults. Despite my lack of success, I'm very glad to have been part of the work to try and help pine hoverflies, and more broadly to preserve the unique range of wonderful species that make the pine forests of the Highlands their home.
There's still a lot of work to be done to understand and conserve this critically endangered and elusive denizen of the Highlands. In the meantime I'm off to have one last look - wish me luck!