Carder bee mimic fly

Field Paintings

One of my favourite hoverflies is the superb carder bee mimic Arctophila (now placed in Sericomyia but I much prefer this name!) superbiens. It is also associated with one of my favourite flowers the beautiful violet-blue devils-bit scabious which flowers in profusion in the bogs of Dartmoor. The flower and fly remind me of lovely September days of late summer warmth.

I always look forward to seeing this hoverfly and this year I spent many hours on Dartmoor looking for the elusive bog hoverfly Eristalis cryptarum which in the UK is a Dartmoor speciality so I planned to spend some time watching Arctophila— as well. It turned out to be an exceptional year for this fly.

Usually I expect to see two or three on a good day but this year it was typical to see several at once so I got to see some behaviour I have not seen before. The hoverfly is such a good mimic of the carder bees which also feed on the scabious that you have to get your eye in at first to pick them up. The fact that they hover and often waggle their wings in a a characteristic manner just after landing on flowerheads usually gives them away.

Males patrol patches of scabious in sunlit spots with the best sites usually in the shelter of woodland or scrub. They are not subtle in their courtship and will jump on any female they encounter quite dramatically. The female will then take flight and occasions I saw this the male was quickly shaken off so mating is either very brief or these females had already mated.

The larvae of this fly are unknown but thought to inhabit wet peat in boggy areas of the moor.

John Walters

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