Rare fly Cockney is rediscovered in the dead centre of old Stoke Newington, London N16

AbneyPark: ruined cemetery chapel Stoke Newington Lon N16 OLH 25 Feb 2012
Pocota personata. Pic © Russell Miller
Dead-lucky sighting of Pocota personata in a cemetery in north Hackney

A RARE HOVERFLY thought to have disappeared from London has been rediscovered in Stoke Newington.

Pocota personata was identified by Dalston’s Russell Miller in Abney Park N16 0LH, above, the, uhm, no-longer-receptive, cemetery beloved of goths, drinkers and others street people, not to mention naturalists.

He describes the fly as “an excellent bumblebee mimic”. As his picture on this page suggests, it is difficult to distinguish from a bumblebee because of its bands of fluffy black, yellow and white hairs.

Why should anyone give a fig about a fly? Well, it may lack the glamour of, say, a creature such as the cat-like lynx, the cuteness of the hedgehog, or even the beauty of a dragonfly.

But they all have their place and have become the responsibility of rapacious humankind. People sometimes mistake some of the UK’s near-300 species of the hoverflies for bees or wasps.

The delicate creatures – elegant, even – can often be seen in gardens in spring and summer as they hover, looking to extract nectar from flowers. (Obviously the rarity of Pocota personata means the species is unlikely to be seen.)

The larvae of many hoverflies eat aphids and contribute to the pollination that is so important to carrots, onions and fruit trees.

Other flies can hover but the hoverfly, unlike them, keeps its head rigid.

Harris: little-known London naturalist

The species Pocota personata could be called a Cockney: the insect was first drawn by London entomologist Moses Harris (1730-c. 1788), from a specimen taken in Stepney in the revolutionary summer of 1776. (Pleasant to think that the ructions then occurring in the British Empire did not distract the scientist from his obscure, yet in its own way also radical, work.)

The bewigged gentleman would be pleased to learn that the bumblebee-mimic is now considered “nationally scarce”, an improvement on its previous rating of “vulnerable”.

Miller comments: “The rediscovery of this remarkable species in inner London, so close to where it was first described in 1776, is a great advertisement for urban ecology.”

© RMiller?
Larva out: Pocota personata and the aphids it eats

David Altheer 260516

Russell Miller’s scientific paper on this curious insect

* Abney Park picture © DavidAltheer [at] gmail.com. Available for sale for reproduction.

* Insect photographs © Russell Miller, Moses Harris drawing courtesy Wikimedia

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