Readers’ wildlife photos

Reader Dom the Ancient (or so he calls himself, as he just turned 60), is locked down in Cromer, having fled London just before the quarantine there. He has in fact been eating roots and other foraged items, so another reader sent him a fancy hamper of food. Dom has also photographed insects, and sent a few photos. His words are indented:

I have some limited interweb access via a usb dongle.  Here is some ‘Natchur’ in all her springtime glory!

In Cromer, on the Norfolk coast, the Alexanders have been flowering for a month.

The Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) were introduced by the Romans, and until the adoption of related celery, were widely eaten.  Here there is one with some yellow rust, Puccinia smyrnii, which my plant scientist guru Nichola Hawkins of Rothamsted (famous plant research unit) identified for me. She said on Twitter “most rusts are (either on one host, or two for different parts of the life cycle). It’s called Puccinia smyrnii because the scientific name of the Alexanders genus is Smyrnium, so as an English name we’d just call it Alexanders rust. […] If you see a rust and can identify the host, calling it ‘Host-plant rust’ is usually a good guess! But there are a few plants that can be infected by multiple rust species, e.g. wheat can get brown rust, yellow rust, or black stem rust.”

A Mediterranean plant, they proliferate by coasts for some reason – perhaps fewer frosts as they grow over the winter?

An insect that seem to particularly like them and benefit from them, is the St. Mark’s Fly, Bibio marci.  They are Bibionidae.  The males have massive eyes and fly with their back legs hanging down so are quite distinctive.  If you did not know better, you might think the females were a different species, they have such a different look.


You rarely see these flies alone, as they time their hatching to the days around St. Mark’s day, 25th of April.  They can be an agricultural pest – the larvae live in the leaf litter or soil.  The attached article by Herbert M Morris from a century ago is the most detail I could find on them [JAC: ask and you shall receive].  I’ve considered doing his experiment, capturing the adults to then watch the female make her hole & lay eggs, but it is a big commitment to adopt some larval flies for a year!  Like a lot of other insects, the adults do not live very long after breeding.

The picture below shows a male B. anglicus with a male marci.  I have not seen a female anglicus, but she is brown, so quite distinctive.


  1. Posted April 24, 2020 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Great natural history! Thanks, Dom.

    Hmm, what other polymathic Englishman escaped from the city to the countryside during a plague . . . ?

    (And after a disquisition on natural history which touches on the influence of the Romans, surely the correct moniker is Dom the Elder.)

    • Dominic
      Posted April 24, 2020 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

      Your favour gives crutches to my faults!

  2. Charles A Sawicki
    Posted April 24, 2020 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Thanks, nice fly photos!

  3. Posted April 24, 2020 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Very good! I don’t see rust photos. The Biobionid flies are also called ‘love bugs’ for obvious reasons.

    • Posted April 24, 2020 at 11:29 am | Permalink

      No the rust picture is missing perhaps I forgot to include it! I found a female Bibio anglicised today, & the StMark’s flies are everywhere now in profusion. I also found bee-flies which I will share with PCCE…

      • Dominic
        Posted April 24, 2020 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

        Bibio anglicus bloody iPhone text correction or errorisation. I did forget the rust…

        • JezGrove
          Posted April 25, 2020 at 5:56 am | Permalink

          Don’t look a gift-horse in the mouth – I believe that iPhone was a recent birthday present?

    • Posted April 24, 2020 at 8:26 pm | Permalink

      Dom the Ancient sent me the rust photo, and I’ve added it at the top of the post.

  4. rickflick
    Posted April 24, 2020 at 12:21 pm | Permalink

    The velvet-black gives them all a formal look.

  5. Mark R.
    Posted April 24, 2020 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    Other than Alexanders, what have the Romans ever done for us? 🙂
    Thanks for the photos. I learned something.

  6. Raskos
    Posted April 24, 2020 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Is that Nicola Hawkins of the renowned Nicola Hawkins Dancers?

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