1. Trichoceridae – ice house

1st January 2019 – The Year of the Fly

This is among other things, the “Year of the Fly” (http://yearofthefly.org/), and so, revisiting a boyhood interest that has now been on ice for four decades or more, I thought it would be fun to see how many of the more than 100 families of flies present in the UK I could find this year. The flies I mean are the two-winged flies that are members of the order Diptera, though just to confuse things, some have dispensed with wings altogether and cling onto the backs of bees, bats, birds and beasts.

The first of January might not seem like the best day to go looking for flies – but I knew where I would find some whatever the weather. Through the woods at the bottom of our garden is an ice-house, a left-over from the days when the surrounding area was somewhat grander with its mansion-house, stables, walled garden and, to keep things fresh since there was no refrigeration, an ice-house.

It’s a stone-built cylinder with a domed roof and a short entrance that used to have a door. In the winter ice would be brought in from the river, or possibly from specially created ponds nearby, and thereafter used as a cold store or source of ice. Nowadays, there is no ice inside, even in the depths of the winter, which makes it a good place to hibernate for herald moths (Scoliopteryx libatrix) which prefer the ceiling, leaving the walls to the spiders and multitudes of winter gnats. As soon as you poke your head and shine a light around these lift off grumpily, wary of the spiders lurking with intent, and shift along the wall a few feet.

Winter gnats are members of the family Trichoceridae, and look like miniature daddy-long-legs. They are easy enough to identify because of their distinctively short A2 vein that starts off with great intentions and then just gives up. I am hoping that this won’t be the trajectory of my Year of the fly!

Wing drawing from http://drawwing.org/insect/trichoceridae-wing

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