Friday, 26 July 2013

Mystery wildlife object puzzles experts

Fly clusters hanging over a river needed expert ID

July 2013. Great balls of fire, yes, but great balls of flies? Yet, this was the scene that confronted Louise Davis on a recent walk alongside the picturesque River Torridge in north Devon.
Photos Devon Wildlife Trust

Louise, who works as the Water Resources Advisory Officer on Devon Wildlife Trust's Northern Devon Nature Improvement Area project, was busy conducting a survey of a stretch of the river near Torrington when she spotted something hanging over the water from a tree. Louise takes up the story: ‘It was about the size of my fist, dangling from a branch. Then I saw several other similar shaped balls all hanging from the same tree. At first I thought they were just debris that had got stuck, but on taking a closer look I discovered that each was a tightly-packed dome consisting of hundreds of flies. I'd never seen anything like it before.'

Unusual behaviour
Louise took photos of the balls and showed them to colleagues, but they got no closer to identifying the strange phenomenon. It was only when she passed the images on to Martin Harvey, a leading fly expert, that the answer was revealed. The fly concerned turned out to be Atherix ibis, part of ibis fly family. Martin explained that the flies are known to adopt this strange behaviour, but that it was ‘not often seen'.

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