Wild West Yorkshire nature diary

Window on the
Insect World

Thursday 3rd August 2000
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hoverflymidge-like fly
AT THIS TIME OF YEAR, every time I dust the desk beneath the studio window, I find one or two dead insects lying there. I decide to take a closer look at a few of them through a low-powered microscope. The structures are amazing; there's the bronzy armour, three pairs of jointed legs bristling with hairs, and the transluscent wings, supported by a network of veins. The red eyes are made up of a honeycomb of tiny lenses, perfectly arranged, like a pair of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes.

The microscopic detail, seen through my Chinese-made microscope, is fascinating but I prefer to get an impression of the whole insect by using a low-powered plastic microscope that was designed for children's use, even though the view isn't quite as bright, or as sharp.

hoverflyThe rounded head of the hoverfly reminds me of one of those cute Disney squirrels, although in my drawing it looks more like one of the characters that you'd meet in a Gary Larson cartoon. The short antennae look like tiny rabbit's ears while the hairs beneath it's face remind me of the kind of beard that a man grows when he shaves his entire face but leaves the area beneath the chin.

It less than a centimetre long and the head is just two millmetres across. Like the sketches below, I've drawn it about ten times actual size.

small flyThe other six tiny insects lying on the desk are, like the hoverflies, all two-winged flies (true flies or Diptera).

midge-like flyThis fly (left), which looks like a tiny gnat, or a stubby miniaturised crane fly, doesn't look like much more than a piece of fluff to the naked eye, but the microscope reveals such details as tiny hairs fringing the rear edge of its wings. Between the wings you can see one of its halteres; one of a pair of organs it uses to keep its balance in flight. They are actually modified wings, and are found only in the two-winged flies (butterflies, bees and dragonflies, among others, have four wings).

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

E-mail; 'richard@daelnet.co.uk'

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