Saturday 3 December 2016

Fly thought to be extinct for 147 years found in Devon wildlife reserve

Published 30/07/2015 | 10:37

The Rhaphium pectinatum fly was thought to be extinct but almost 150 years later has been found at the Devon Wildlife Trust's Old Sludge beds nature reserve, near Exeter
The Rhaphium pectinatum fly was thought to be extinct but almost 150 years later has been found at the Devon Wildlife Trust's Old Sludge beds nature reserve, near Exeter

A fly that is thought to have been extinct for almost 150 years has been found living in Devon.

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The last known recording of the Rhaphium pectinatum fly was on July 19 1868 when the renowned Victorian entomologist George Verrall caught a male and female at Richmond in Surrey.

In the decades since it was presumed that the fly was extinct but nearly 150 years later it has been spotted again - this time at the Devon Wildlife Trust's Old Sludge Beds nature reserve, near Exeter.

The remarkable discovery was made by expert naturalist Rob Wolton who is a member of the Devon Fly Group and the Dipterists Forum which specialises in the study of flies.

Mr Wolton said: "I took a recent trip to Devon Wildlife Trust's Old Sludge Beds nature reserve on the outskirts of Exeter specifically to look for flies.

"Imagine my surprise when I examined my catch that evening to find it included a fly that was presumed extinct in Britain, not having been seen for 147 years.

"Definitely one to add to the list of Devon specialities."

Little is known about the handsome, metallic green coloured fly, apart from that it is part of the family dolichopodidae, a group which is known as long-legged flies.

Most members of the family live in tropical areas of the world.

"The only other record of the fly was found near Richmond in London in 1868," Mr Wolton said.

"Nothing is known about its biology, but it seems that it may like brackish conditions like those found at the Old Sludge Beds, and may even be associated with the extensive tidal reed beds nearby at the head of the Exe estuary.

"Finding the fly here demonstrates the importance of the work the Devon Wildlife Trust does looking after these unusual and special habitats."

Mr Wolton said that flies are not the most popular animals among the general public.

"To most people, the only good fly is a dead one," he said.

"Only a tiny proportion of the flies in Britain are pests, while many are important for pollination and for ensuring efficient recycling of the nutrients in dead plant material.

"And they are an important part of the food web - many of our birds rely on them.

"Without flies, there would be no swallows, and not many bats. Nor, incidentally, would we have any chocolate - the cacao tree is pollinated by midges, a kind of fly."

Steve Hussey, from the Devon Wildlife Trust, added: "So often we have to break the news of species that are disappearing, so it's good to be able to announce the discovery of an animal that was thought to be extinct.

"This is a very exciting find for Devon Wildlife Trust. We've worked hard at the Old Sludge Beds nature reserve in recent years to maintain a patchwork of reed beds, ponds and lagoons which now provide a home to local wildlife including rare dragonflies, birds and amphibians.

"The presence of this special fly means that we must be doing something right in supporting many of the species that make our county so special."

Press Association

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