Dipterists Forum Weekend at FSC Preston Montford

Fantastic content, course leaders, inspiring dipterists and great food were just a few of the pros of attending the Dipterists Forum Weekend on the 16th-19th February 2018. So why did I decide to attend this course? 1) flies are awesome and 2) Anthomyiids are quite intimidating to identify morphologically and I need to be able to do this for my PhD. For some reason, I always seem to choose to study groups that have other entomologists wishing me good luck. When I first started to get into aphids, many Hemipterists said ‘well, good luck with that!’ and when I introduced the topic of my PhD to some Dipterists I received the same reply… So, I was hoping that the fantastical dipterists of the dipterists forum, with their greater experience and knowledge, would help me with becoming more confident in Anthomyiidae identification. I can confidently say, they did!

Despite the traffic on the way down, we still managed to arrive in time for dinner Friday night. After dinner, the evening kicked off with Phil Brighton and Martin Harvey giving overviews of the two fly families we would be covering this weekend, the Anthomyiidae and Soldierflies and allies. It has to be said that the only thing that could get me into a classroom on a Friday evening would be insects, particularly these fascinating flies. Phil started by discussing some of the species found within the Anthomyiidae, and I started getting quite excited every time that Pegomya were mentioned. Martin then took over to talk about a few things in respect to some of the material that would be useful to look at Soldierflies and allies, including the fantastic Stubbs and Drake book (that I am now a proud owner of thanks to Alex!).

 

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The Dipterists Forum Anthomyiidae Key!

I started off my Saturday morning looking at some of the male anthomyiids that Howard Bentley kindly brought along to help with the course. Although a sometimes-challenging group, Howard produced a lovely key to the 25 most common species which I found extremely helpful in determining the species I was working with. Admittedly, it’s been a while since I identified flies, but the key came with some incredible diagrams and drawings of some of the key features which were produced by Michael Ackland (Anthomyiid god) which helped me a lot! With the help of the test keys, I managed to successfully identify quite a few male flies, with just a few bumps along the way. But I no longer think that anthomyiids are completely impossible to identify, which was the point of the weekend! Sunday morning, I then thought it was a good decision to try identifying some of the females since I’ll probably be doing some work on them for my PhD. The females were harder to identify, and I struggled more with these than the males. However, I haven’t given up! I’ll keep working on the females when I can, because I think it would be fantastic to be able to identify them, but also because I simply refuse to admit defeat. And I suspect that once I’ve gotten the hang of them (with a lot of practice), they won’t be as hard to identify as I feel that they are now.

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Hylemya variata from Howard Bentleys collection (Photo by Alex)

It was also lovely finally putting names to faces. I’ve heard and seen (on fb and twitter) the names of a few of the dipterists who attended this year. I was happy to finally meet Nigel Jones, an entomologist from Shropshire, who I never had the chance to meet during my time at Harper Adams. Nigel happened to have collected Pegomya betae (identified during the course of the weekend) and was very happy to show me some of the fantastic pictures he’d taken of the fly’s characteristics. I was very, very excited about this. And Nigel has kindly let me have access to these photos for use during my PhD (thanks Nigel!).

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Lateral picture of the Surstyli of Pegomya betae (Photo by Nigel Jones)

I don’t think most people can say that they have the pleasure to know anyone who are so passionate about something that even after dinner, they preferred to stay in the lab (some of them until 10pm onwards) looking at flies, rather than going to the bar. It was inspiring and I am still very much feeling the hype of the weekend. I’ll look forward to working more with anthomyiids in the future and will definitely be doing some anthomyiid recording in the coming years! 🙂

 

Now, over to Alex!

 

Shortly after Howards whistle-stop tour of the Anthomyiid test key, the lights dim and the second session begins. Representing the Soldierflies and Allies recording scheme, Martin Harvey takes centre stage. Martin began by stating that though he had not brought a new key to the event (he cites the previously mentioned Stubbs and Drake book as akin to the bible, and he’s right, it really is incomparable), he had brought some supplementary material to aid in the identification of some of the more complicated taxa. He also took the time to run through the current status of the recording scheme, showed us how the records are used and how the current atlases were looking. With the digital age making specimen identification and recording accessible by the touch of a screen, I urge everyone to get out there recording as many soldierflies as possible this year (and be sure to follow the recording scheme on Twitter, @SoldierfliesRS (other insect recording schemes also available)), and at this time of year to be vigilant for the arrival of the first common beeflies of the year, Bombylius major. Prize to the first person to record one this year (disclaimer – there may not be a prize and I take no responsibility for anyone being misled by this statement)!

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Beris vallata – Identified from Alex’s own collection

Handouts for this session included notes on the Stubbs & Drake keys, providing notes on some of the more ambiguous couplets, a translated version of Morten Falck’s key to the Norwegian Therevidae (notorious amongst Dipterists for being a particularly difficult family), localised for British species and various materials on the horseflies (Tabanidae) – including two keys to Hybomitra and Haematopota utilising some wonderful stacked photographs of specimens from the Natural History Museum’s collected, compiled by Harvey for the event. There was even a couple of *classic* Tabanidae books, brought along from the BENHS and Liverpool World Museum collections for people to peruse as they pleased – a rare treat indeed!

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Haematopota pluvialis (m) – Identified from Alex’s own collection

Specimens were on offer from the NHM and Liverpool World Museum collections, and featured a selection of rare or particularly special species found across the UK. I brought along a box of my own specimens, in order to work through some of my unidentified material in the company of those who would be able to tell me whether or not the specimen I had identified was indeed the incredibly rare dune-dwelling species that is known from only one record in 1842 making me the first person to find one in over 150 years, or whether it was in fact the most common species in the country. I had brought along with me a ­Hybomitra I had caught in Staffordshire the previous summer. Due to the genus being a tricky one, the Stubbs & Drake key had repeatedly lead me to label it as H. solstitialis, a rather rare and endangered scarce species. However, utilising both the key and Martin’s stacked photography, I settled upon H. distinguenda as the likely culprit. Perhaps not as amazing as a solstitialis finding, but satisfying to have finally identified the specimen. Martin and I also became briefly puzzled by a Thereva specimen, believing it initially to be T. strigata, a species known in the UK from only a single record, but reigned ourselves back in to identify the specimen as the much more common (but no less cute) T. nobilitata.

I also spent a fair bit of time looking at some specimens from the museum collections, attempting to observe the differences between the bee flies Bombylius minor and canescens, looking at some of the impressive, large soldierflies such as Stratiomys potamida (a species that Martin joked about ‘having never seen, yet friends have found specimens at the end of my road!’, and one I’ll definitely be on the lookout for this summer) and looking at some of the truly bizarre but amazing Acroceridae. The species pictured below is Ogcodes gibbosus. Frankenstein’s miniature monster, it is not. Tiny-headed, humpback, spider-killing fly it most certainly is.   

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Ogcodes gibbosus from the Natural History Museum Collections (photo by Alex)

I would just like to thank everyone at the Dipterists Forum who came to the course at FSC Preston Montford. Lots of people have been really supportive and offered lots of help with furthering my Dipterology skills! Judy Webb’s inspirational talk and fantastic videos on rearing larvae has made me want to try rearing some of my own! And thank you to the committee members for awarding me a bursary to attend the course 🙂 Thank you also to the staff at the centre who helped organise the weekend, sort out all of the equipment and looked after us. And another special thank you to the people who carried all of the fantastic museum specimens over to the centre for all of us to have a look at! We both look forward to attending more Dipterists Forum events in the future. For more information about the society and how to join follow the link below! 🙂

http://www.dipteristsforum.org.uk 

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