61. Ditomyiidae – sun seeker

I thought I was done with fly families for the year – except for one up my sleeve which I was keeping as a finale. But a sunny afternoon drew me out from my struggles with annoying anthomyiids (bristles on legs, crucial features on hidden genitalia, awkward females, comparative adjectives without helpful figures, lots of head-scratching) for a walk through the woods. I checked out the icehouse where I bagged my first fly family on the first of January – Trichoceridae of course. There were no hibernating moths this time, but four Peacock butterflies, slivers of darkness, and one spreadeagled against the wall so as to scare me with its eye spots.

After several days of rainy deluges the river banks have been smoothed away, the vegetation toppled as if it had been scythed, the river still high and brown. As I emerged from the trees a heron lifted and croaked and floated away. This time of year the haugh is almost bare of flowers – just an odd yarrow parasol and fading bouquets of ragwort, but as if to compensate, the trees are in full colour – larch rich in yellow and russet, invisible the rest of the year but now the eye-candy across the river. At the spot on the banks where there used to be a bridge, two copper beeches were holding on to their leaves and catching the late afternoon sun. I settled myself amongst their comfortable roots and watched the river mumbling by, fidgeting in its hurry to be somewhere else. A dipper called as it whizzed upstream and in the other direction a buzzard mewed restlessly.

Ditomyia fasciata, female

There were of course no flies about, this being November, but I had brought my pooter along anyway, just in case. At the edge of my vision something flitted by and landed on the tree trunk above my head where the weak sun was warming the cold grey bark. I ended my sun saltuation and also that of the fly, the only one I saw apart from a twitchy blow fly that wouldn’t let me anywhere near it. Anispodidae, I thought, which was the third family of the year when it turned up in January in my bee shed, though the wings looked different with big dark patches – perhaps it was a different species. But under the microscope it turned out to have a different wing pattern, and it emerged from the key as Ditomyiidae, another family to have been hived off from the fungus gnats. There are only three species found in the UK, and this looked to be Ditomyia fasciata, seemingly unrecorded north of Nottingham. Nature’s way of telling me to spend quite so much time at the microscope.

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