Rhaphium pectinatum fly is alive and well, not extinct

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Conservationists have found Rhaphium pectinatum – a fly once thought to be extinct – at a Devon Wildlife Trust nature reserve and according to the charity it is alive and well.

The fly, Rhaphium pectinatum, has only been recorded once in the UK before on 19 July 1868 when the renowned Victorian entomologist George Verrall caught a male and female at Richmond in Surrey.

However, the fly was presumed to be extinct in the decades that followed, but now, nearly 150 years later it has been spotted again by expert naturalist Rob Wolton, this time at Devon Wildlife Trust’s Old Sludge beds nature reserve, near Exeter. Wolton is a member of the Devon Fly Group and the Dipterists Forum which specialises in the study of flies.

Little is known about the handsome, metallic green coloured fly, apart from that it is part of the family Dolichopidiae, a group which is known as long-legged flies. Most members of the family live in tropical areas of the world.

With only one record of the fly near Richmond in London in 1868, nothing is known about the biology of the fly. Experts believe that it may like brackish (salty) conditions like those found at the Old Sludge Beds, and may even be associated with the extensive tidal reed beds nearby at the head of the Exe Estuary.

“Finding the fly here demonstrates the importance of the work the Devon Wildlife Trust does looking after these unusual and special habitats”, Wolton explained.

The fly has made its home at Devon Wildlife Trust’s Old Sludge Beds nature reserve. The five hectare site is situated between the River Exe and the Exeter Canal. Until 1969 it was used as a place where Exeter’s sewage sediment was stored. Since 1979 The Trust has managed the place as a nature reserve for people and wildlife.

“So often we have to break the news of species that are disappearing, so it’s good to be able to announce the discovery of an animal that was thought to be extinct. This is a very exciting find for Devon Wildlife Trust”, Devon Wildlife Trust’s Steve Hussey said.

“We’ve worked hard at the Old Sludge Beds nature reserve in recent years to maintain a patchwork of reed beds, ponds and lagoons which now provide a home to local wildlife including rare dragonflies, birds and amphibians. The presence of this special fly means that we must be doing something right in supporting many of the species that make our county so special.”