Just Another Way To Die

A warm sunny day kicked off the start of May, although a fair few layers were still required to protect from the occasional chilly breeze. Matt and I headed over to RSPB Fen Drayton with some family friends for a relaxed wander.

There were plenty of birds, but they were far too quick to take photographs of. Swifts (Apus apus) shooting past in quick succession, Blackcaps (Sylvia atricapilla) flitting between vegetation and even a Cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) floating smoothly but speedily across the sky and into a tree, where it perched out of sight but calling loudly. Speaking of calls and songs, Matt proved himself useful as usual by identifying a variety of bird songs as we wandered – Blackcap, Whitethroat (Sylvia communis), Sedge and Reed Warblers (Acrocephalus schoenobaenus and A.scirpaceus), and even my first Nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos)! It was such a thrill to stand amongst the vegetation and listen to the beautiful songs of so many birds.

It will come as no surprise to many of you that I had great fun finding, photographing and trying to identify insects. There were some of the usual suspects, such as 7-spot Ladybird (Coccinella 7-punctata) and Brimstone butterfly (Gonepteryx rhamni). Plus some species that were new to either myself or my company, including Cream-spot Ladybird (Calvia quatuordecimguttata) and Common Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus vespillo). I was particularly excited to find my first Orthoptera of the year – a very tiny and adorable Dark Bush-Cricket nymph (Pholidoptera griseoaptera)!

I also found something rather odd, perched motionless on the top of a plant. A very strange-looking fly. As you can see in the photograph below, its abdomen is very swollen and cream in colour, and it doesn’t look at all healthy.

Thanks to the wonders of Twitter, I was able to find out the cause of this unhealthy look. The fly is actually infected by a parasitic fungus which has made it crawl to the top of the plant, and die there!

Crumbs.

The location of the death is to maximise dispersal of the fungal spores – this webpage has some more details should you want to further gross yourself out. The fungus is apparently a type of Entomophthora, most likely E.mascae but I can’t be sure without looking under a microscope at the structure of the fungus.

All very interesting – nature can be cruel, but it sure is fascinating.

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