Thursday, 1 September 2011

Second to Noon

Some while ago I bemoaned the lack of information to be had about one of my favourites flies – Mesembrina meridiana aka the Noon Fly.  This bonny matt black insect with unreal gold angular decorations on its head and a tasteful hint of gold on the wings bothered me because I could establish so little about its lifestyle other than it laid eggs in cow pats.  (See my earlier post here)

Phil Gates pointed me towards a book – though I thought he was having me on when he said it was called ‘Insects of the British Cow Dung Community’.  I mean, I know plenty of people who talk a load of cow manure but who in their right mind would write a book on it let alone give it such an evocative title.  Well, one fine chap and largely unsung hero called Dr Peter Skidmore of course – published by the Field Studies Council.  A hunt for the book proved fruitless as it was long out of print.  I forgot about it until Mel Lloyd posted on cow pats a while ago on her Sandy Wildlife blog.

To cut a long story short I now have my hands on a copy after handing over a deposit (sorry) to the library loans people.  What a gem it is and I suspect, between this blog and Mel's you haven't heard the last of it by a long chalk.
So.....I now know that the little female noon fly lays no more than 5 eggs in her whole short life.  These are laid one at a time, two days apart in soft fresh dung.  Trouble is that within two days any one cow dollop will have crusted over, so she is a one-egg-per-pat kind of girl.  It follows that if you were to find a lot of eggs in one pat they must each have been laid by a different fly.  Elementary my dear Watson.  (He never said that).

Within an hour in the nice warm steamy slop, the egg has hatched .  By the third instar stage, the larva turns carnivorous and munches its way through large numbers of maggots of the face fly (Musca autumnalis).  This fly is responsible for spreading various unpleasant diseases in cattle so you see, this delightful dipteran is actually the farmer’s friend.
Another Skidmore gem is that the noon fly maggot is the largest you will find in your average British cow pat and, he says,  is popular for that reason with both anglers and rooks. (Though somehow I can’t imagine many anglers fingering their way through fresh dung to look for noon fly maggots).  He omitted to mention choughs,  which make a very decent living by sticking their noses into cowpats rooting out goodies, no doubt including noon fly maggots, as I observed first hand on Colonsay. earlier this year.

(Distant) chough poking in a cow pat

Chough looking for a cow pat
So, a toast to Peter Skidmore, sadly no longer with us, for his splendid legacy and a plea to someone to reprint his book asap.

For posts from other noon fly fans try:-
The Living Isle
Martin's moths


  1. I didn't know any of that - very interesting.
    (Another label for this fly might be 'Ex-pat')

  2. Ah yes...nice one Rob. I really wish I'd thought of that.
    Another nugget from the great man is that the noon fly maggot is easily recognisable by its 'deep yellow colour, lethargic habits, powerful mouthparts and massive anal spiracles' Good grief - bet you didn't know that either!

  3. Yay! What a great little book isn't it? Indeed I will be doing some reciprocal dung-blogging very soon. Great photo of that chough likely noon-fly maggot hunting. I have a warm affection for the noon flies now. Mel

  4. Very interestying Allan we just don't know much of what's going on around us. Mr Skidmore is perhaps appropriately named given the subject of his research!!

  5. I am beside myself with anticipation, Mel. Get stuck in (so to speak).

  6. Hi Steve, Good job his first name wasn't Yule. They don't have any natural cow dung community at all in Australia apparently. Without the decomposers, the annual output of five cows is enough to cover and destroy an acre of grazing. Well I never.

  7. Thanks for this - despite being out and about in nature reserves and country parks an awful lot, I'd never knowingly seen one of these until today, and thought it was a beautiful looking fly. Google sent me to you (image search for 'insect fly gold face wings'). Now I know what it is, and that it's 'common and widespread'. I'll probably see them everywhere now. :-)

    With regard to your plea for help, your blogger template has the properties "min-height: 324px; _height: 324px;" set for the header background image, or at least the page source does, so either try deleting one of these, or try a different height, or just re-crop your image to fit the proportions that you're getting. Min-height would imply that it could get bigger, so I'd suggest removing the _height bit and preview your template then.

  8. Hi Dan. Good to find someone stumbling into my blog. One day I'll understand how google works maybe. I keep sending posts into cyberorbit and often wonder where they end up and indeed if anyone gives a toss, so its nice to get a contact out of the blue.
    I remember being gobsmacked the first time I saw a noon fly too. Stunning little thing. If you ever manage to get some better photos than I did post them on your blog and let me know.

    Thanks v much for the blogger template tip. I'll give it a go.

    All the best