Tongue-tied

February 21st 2018

For some years, I have been trying to grow wildflowers in order to attract insects to my rather wild garden at Torbreck, just outside Lochinver (NC085242).  I have collected seeds during visits to South Wales, particularly from Kenfig Nature Reserve, a favourite haunt of mine.  Last summer, the seeds of bristly oxtongue Picris echioides, which I found there, produced three tall plants which did indeed attract insects (mainly small flies) to their yellow composite flowers.  The stems and leaves of this species are covered in tiny grapnel-like hairs.

On the 24th September 2017, I noticed two flies, one a greenbottle and the other a bluebottle, stuck to the stems of one of the plants.  It took me a while to work out that they were both attached by their tongues and apparently not held by the hooked hairs.  The bluebottle was still alive and I managed to release it without injury, but the greenbottle was dead.  It was sent to Murdo MacDonald, who identified it as a female Lucilia caesar, which is a very common species.

Ian Evans wondered if the flies might have been infected with the parasitic fungus Entomophthora, which makes them act strangely, but this did not seem to be the case.  There is an aphid in the close-up photo of the bluebottle, so maybe the stems were leaking sap because of damage by aphids and this attracted the flies.  However, why would flies put their tongues onto such a hairy plant stem rather than visit the flowers?

I have found one reference to damselflies and beetles becoming entangled in the hooked hairs of this plant.  Perhaps the flies were caught by them after all and became dehydrated, so put their tongues onto the stem surface to ingest some moisture.  Any other suggestions would be gratefully received.

Gwen Richards

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Recent Sightings

Kittiwake

c100 adult and 1st-winter birds feeding off Clachtoll (DAH) (24/09)

Tufted Duck

two male birds on Loch Drumbeg (DAH) (22/09)

Merlin

single bird near Stoer Village Hall (DAH) (21/09)

UPDATE on colour-ringed Oystercatcher

we have heard back from the Icelandic Wader Group regarding the colour-ringed Oystercatcher spotted at Bay of Culkein on Tuesday. It was ringed, as an adult, near its nest while it was territory-guarding on 19th May this year; the location was Eskifjorour which is on the east coast of Iceland. We will post a short article on the Field Club's website in the next few days regarding other sightings of colour-ringed birds recorded in Assynt (DAH) (20/09)

Pink-footed Goose

c225, in four skeins, heading east over Culkein Drumbeg (DAH). Oh boy, it's autumn! (20/09)

Wigeon

single male in eclipse plumage Loch Inver (DAH) (20/09)

Manx Shearwater

young bird rescued from a garden at Inchnadamph (Chris Rix/Andy Summers). The bird, which was well off-course, was successfully released at Stoer the next day. (18/09)

Oystercatcher

four birds resting on rocks Bay of Culkein (DAH). One of these birds, an adult, had a combination of coloured rings on its legs. The details have been submitted to the appropriate ringing scheme, which appears to be the International Wader Study Group, and we will report back once we hear from them. (18/09)

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