February 2019 – The Year of the fly
Instead of paying proper attention to flies, I have been distracted – for the last couple of decades at least – by honeybees. Finding ourselves in a country cottage with a bit of garden and neighbours sufficiently far away not to be annoyed by troublesome livestock, we acquired, or rather were given, first chickens and then bees. One hive became two, two became ten, the beekeeping paraphernalia expanded until it required its own shed, and honey production became a cottage industry.
Over the years I have tried different ways of harvesting the honey – initially just eating the honeycomb straight from the hive for minimum fuss and maximum flavour, all the better for being home-grown. Then for a few years I began spinning it out from combs in a hand-cranked centrifuge, almost an industrial process involving complete takeover of the kitchen that dragged on towards bedtime, and I would become hot and grumpy from the work, everything and surface become sticky with honey. Now I harvest the honey in the autumn and store it as honeycomb until I need it, when I melt it out of the combs in an old chest freezer powered by a 60W bulb. The mixture of honey and wax is then sieved into a big bucket and decanted into jars, all in a relatively unstressful manner, with very little honey ending up on the kitchen floor. Between extractions the honey buckets sit in the bee shed along with all the other beekeeping bits and pieces, their lids slightly ajar to stop them going fousty.
The most frequent visitors to the bee shed are wasps, trying to put up nests on the roof in the spring and a nuisance in the autumn when unguarded boxes of honey are too much of a temptation for them. Otherwise, there is a colony of lesser wax moths (Achroia grisella), a lurking menance of mice, and occasional forays by the garden robin. And this morning, unexpectedly, in the bottom of the honey bucket there was a single dead fly, drawn to its doom by the lingering smell of honey.
Not the most glamorous of flies, but pleasingly easy to place in its family with only five questions to answer. 1. Does it have wings? (Yes!) 2. Are there more than three segments to the antennae? (Yes, 16 to be precise) 3. Is there a V-shaped crevice on the thorax? (No – it looks smooth).
4. Does the wing have a discal cell? Now, don’t be scared – a cell is just a bit of the wing completely surrounded by veins, and the discal cell is the one marked “d” on the wing diagram. And lastly, 5. Does vein R4+5 split into two? (No). So it’s a member of the family Anisopodidae, which happens to have only four British species, the larvae of one of which (Anisopus fenestralis) are “reported as causing damage to honeycombs …” by my trusty Coyler and Hammond “Flies of the British Isles”. The pattern on the wings look just right for that species. I wonder if they took up an interest in bees here at the same time that I did.