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Entomology (Study of Bugs)/Mystery insect! Image & link attached

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Mystery Insect
Mystery Insect  
QUESTION: Hello Ed!

I'm currently in the Dordogne region in the South of France, where my husband and I spend each summer. This very interesting animal came into the kitchen a few nights ago. I'm very curious as to what it might be. We have a lot of crawlies, being out in the country, but I have never seen the like of this one before. I'm sure I would remember it if I had. I've uploaded a photo I took here:

http://bit.ly/1eqfa65

It is about the size of a common mud-dauber wasp, maybe a little smaller. It came in at night, attracted, I assume, by the light-- it's inside the hood of the lamp over the kitchen table in the photo. Unfortunately I couldn't get a good shot of its face, as it kept facing upward into the light and I couldn't fit my camera up there. That bit on the tail end of its abdomen that looks like a face projects upwards about 5 millimetres-- I've got another picture if that would help. The colours are pretty true, but it seemed brighter by eye. Once inside, it didn't do much-- didn't bash around like a fly-- but seemed content to stay in the lamp. It was still there in the morning. It left early, soon after I opened the door.

Do you know what it might be? We've had some local havoc in our bugs-- the population of Red Bugs is down very sharply, from bajillions to you might see one now and again, and I'm seeing very few of the normally common blue butterflies-- and we have had an invasive species of hornet move in in the last couple of years. Is this bug a newcomer? Anything you can tell me about it?

Thanks so much for your attention!

Yours--

Cleodhna

ANSWER: Dear Cleodhna - This insect is harmless, and is a native of Europe. It is a crane fly (Diptera: Tipulidae) in the genus Ctenophora, possibly Ctenophora ornata - see http://tinyurl.com/lzptxrg for an image. Their larvae appear to feed on fungi in water-soaked wood; it does appear clear whether or not the adults feed at all. See http://tinyurl.com/n55mlcg for much more detailed information.

Hope this helps,
Saugy

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you so much! The insect didn't look harmful, and I wouldn't have let anyone squish it anyway. It's a strictly 'catch it- photograph it- put it outside- ask questions later' household.

I'm curious as to why I've never seen one of these before. We live at quite a high elevation, and topsoil, while being quite rich, is shallow, so it's normally very dry. We don't have a lot of places where there would be wet wood. Could the weird wet spring we've had have affected the crane flies, giving their larvae food where they don't normally have any?

I hope I'm not being a pest. I do like to observe my nearby wildlife and its responses to changes, especially the weather weirdness we've been experiencing.

Answer
Dear Cleodhna - Our changing climate already has resulted in changes in distribution of quite a few organisms, and an abnormally wet spring i your area very well could have created conditions more conducive for the establishment of this species. Also, there always is the chance that if atmospheric conditions were favorable, it is possible that it had been wind-borne for some distance. On their own, these insects appear to be relatively weak fliers. Finally it also is possible that this species is present in low numbers in your are, and the chances of sighting one earlier simply were very low. I know that there are several species of large, if not fairly spectacular, insect species that should occur here but that I've never seen one. As an example, last week, a mydas fly, the largest fly in the USA, found its way into our kitchen (http://tinyurl.com/mkv5jlz)! In the 14 years we've lived here, I'd never seen one before this.

Hope this helps,
Saugy

Entomology (Study of Bugs)

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Ed Saugstad

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Will accept most questions in general entomology, including those related to medical entomology, taxonomy, ecology, arthropod surveillance, and pest management. If you are requesting a 'mystery bug' identification, PLEASE either attach an image to your question, or post an image on a web page (such as Flickr) so that I can look at it, as verbal descriptions frequently are insufficient for a definitive identification.

Experience

21 years in the U.S. Army as a medical entomologist; duties varied from surveillance of pest populations (including mosquitoes, cockroaches, ticks, and stored products pests) to conducting research on mosquito-virus ecological relationships and mosquito faunal studies. Ten years as a civilian analyst for the Department of Defense, primarily on distribution of vector-borne diseases worldwide. Limited experience on surveillance of agricultural insects in North Dakota and Indiana.

Organizations
Entomological Society of America, West Virginia Entomological Society, Society for Vector Ecology, National Speleological Society, West Virginia Association for Cave Studies.

Publications
American Journal of Public Health, Contributions of the American Entomological Institute, Japanese Journal of Sanitary Zoology, Journal of Economic Entomology, Mosquito News, and Mosquito Systematics.

Education/Credentials
B.S. in entomology from North Dakota State University in 1963, M.S. in entomology from Purdue University in 1967.

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