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Hoverfly Rescue

Saturday 28th July 2001, West Yorkshire

orb web spiderI DON'T KNOW IF Hoverflies, like cats, get nine lives, but this one is pushing his luck.

trapped in a webThis morning we watched as a hoverfly, and this was an unlucky one, collided with a web at the corner of the patio window. After just a few seconds, a large orb web spider ran out, deftly trussed up its - her - victim (with spiders the females are generally the largest) with a trussed up preyfew bands of silk and pulled it back into her corner lair, pausing only to free her dangling food parcel when it got snagged on the web.

This evening, another hapless hoverfly - a male (you can tell by looking at his eyes, if you've read Monday's diary) - is stuck in the same web. No sign of the spider - she must have eaten her fill by now - so I free him with my finger, making a large hoverfly on marigoldhole in the web as I pull him out. I pull a few, to me, invisible threads of silk away and see him pull free a wing or a leg with each strand. it's like watching a mime, except that I can feel the sticky threads giving way. But when I park him on a marigold to recover he doesn't seem happy. He pulls backwards, evidently still snagged in the thread. Or perhaps the spider had already bitten him and now he's in a drunken, drugged stupor?

hoverfly attempting to take offI pick him up on my finger again and gently dab a finger at his wings and feet, picking off snags of silk.

His wings finally free, he stirs into action. Wings whir and he lifts off - but only a couple of millimetres into the air. He tries again. I can feel the mini-fan breeze of his wings.

close encounterI transfer him to my other hand. This seems to sever the last ties and this time there's no stopping him; he veers off over the patio and zooms . . . directly towards the large yellow flame of our citronella oil burner!

Hot, sticky, but I hope unharmed, he continues across the lawn.

Aphid Eaters

Apart from the fun of having these harmless insects around as we eat out, there's also the chance that they will act as a natural pest control. We've got a couple of Moneymaker tomatoes growing in pots on the patio. Hoverflies visiting the marigolds may lay their eggs on these plants. The young of some species of hoverfly eat large numbers of aphids. next page

Richard Bell
Richard Bell,
wildlife illustrator

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