It moves like a robot
July 29, 2011 9:37 AM   Subscribe

What is this amazing little insect / fly / creature that appeared on my magazine?

I was sitting reading my Private Eye a couple of nights ago at home in Oxford (the England Oxford) when this little guy landed on the page. He grabbed my attention and amazed me because I've never seen an insect like him in the UK before, as...

- his wing things (you can tell I'm no insectologist (not least by my use of that word ;) )) appear, firstly, to be at 90 degrees his body. So whereas wings are (in my limited experience) if not completely parallel with the body, at least roughly aligned with the body, these really did stand out at right angles

- the wings are also a shape unlike any other I've seen on an insect before - a sort of elongated very thin oval, with little curves on the top edge

- perhaps most amazingly, he moved - both in terms of walking using his legs, and the motion of his wings - like he was made of clockwork. no jumpy, jerky, fast fly type movements; it's a little hard to describe but essentially he moved like a clockwork ballerina; very slowly, incredibly smoothly. very bizarre!

Can anyone tell me what it is? I'd love to learn more!

posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots to Science & Nature (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I forgot to add that his wings were also rather like spectacle frames, upturned - big thick rims, and then - I guess - some sort of very thin film inside them (although I couldn't actually see anything 'inside' the 'frames'). Which was even more strange - I've never seen wings that had 'thick frames'.

in my many years of expertly studying insect wings
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 9:49 AM on July 29, 2011

Looks like a form of fruit fly which are known to have different types of patterns on their wings...
posted by samsara at 9:57 AM on July 29, 2011

Best answer: Picture Winged Fly?
posted by JJ86 at 9:57 AM on July 29, 2011

Response by poster: samsara, JJ86: it's a little bit hard to tell, but having taken a good look at the photos on the pages linked to (and also doing a google images search for Ulidiidae) - it doesn't look like those.

The central thing which I can't see in those pictures is the 'frame' like wings: a big, thick, uniform outline, with a 'gap' inside, which you can see in my photo (presumably there is something in the 'gap', but hey, how do i know?)

thanks for the suggestions though!
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 10:03 AM on July 29, 2011

JJ86 might be on a closer track to your overall description, here are some more pics of the picture wing fly.
posted by samsara at 10:07 AM on July 29, 2011

At first I too thought some sort of fruit fly but now I am hedging towards "tiny robot spy" so idk.
posted by elizardbits at 10:18 AM on July 29, 2011

Definitely looks like a picture-winged fly, (Ulidiidae/Otididae), as others have suggested.
posted by bolognius maximus at 10:22 AM on July 29, 2011

Best answer: How about Palloptera muliebris? It is a kind of picture-winged fly, but quite an unusual one.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:47 AM on July 29, 2011 [5 favorites]

(I got to that via a Wild About Britain forum post, incidentally, so it's definitely an insect found in the UK.)
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 10:51 AM on July 29, 2011

Definitely a fly of some sort.
posted by malaprohibita at 12:11 PM on July 29, 2011

It looks like ManyLeggedCreature got it.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:35 PM on July 29, 2011

Best answer: ManyLeggedCreatures definitely got it; not a member of Ulidiidae but rather a Pallopterid (at Encyclopedia of Life). From Wikipedia: "Pallopteridae, or flutter-wing flies (or trembling-wing, or waving-wing flies, because of the striking vibration of the wings in many species)." Wikipedia claims little is known about them; but the Biodiversity Heritage Library begs to differ. For example, This 1925 book review notes that they are carnivorous and eat beetles, including bark-boring beetles.

Beautiful, thanks for sharing. I'd really love to see a video of it moving; it sounds like they're named for the striking motion that you observed.
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 2:06 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: ManyLeggedCreature: that's the one! Fantastic work. It's interesting, in that much better close-up, that you can really see the 'film' that I was describing, and in fact t appears to extend slightly beyond what I was describing as the 'frame'. But the 'film' was so subtle that it just looked like all 'frame' to me.

Out of interest: how did you do that? Just elite Google Fu, or some extra knowledge about what I was describing?

Made of Star Stuff: thanks for the extra info; fascinating, delighted to share! I'll have to keep my eyes out for more. We live in a very urban street, quite close in to the centre, with a small-ish garden that has little grass but a couple of big fruit trees. Not quite sure what's drawing them round here.

Let me tell you, all, the thing that was *most* amazing about this thing was the movement: so fundamentally un-insect-like. It really was striking - it moves, like I said in the title, like a robot; like something hydraulic. I really did go 'whoa'! when he moved about. I love that Made of Star Stuff's link talks of 'trembling-wing' or 'waving-wing'; that really does speak to the fact that the movement was so unusual. (Although I haven't yet read through the content of those in detail - just wanted to post this quickly before going off to bed, as it's late here now!)

Thanks so much, everybody!
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 3:53 PM on July 29, 2011

Response by poster: Also: further to Made of Star Stuff's comment, what I really want is a video, too. I'll do some googling in the morning - and moreover, keep an eye out for further visiting friends. It was the trusty iPhone in my pocket that helped me to snap this guy in the first place; if I see one again I'll definitely try for a video.
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 3:55 PM on July 29, 2011

Response by poster: Oogh look! Fantastic photo on flickr that 100% bears out my observation about wings at right angles:

posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 4:21 PM on July 29, 2011

Response by poster: Wonderful description of the extraordinary walking and another good photo at
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 4:26 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Amazing, the wings really are transparent, you can see right through them in this photo.
posted by exphysicist345 at 10:05 PM on July 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm glad I could help! I got there using Google-fu, mostly, with a bit of offline reference work.

If you want the details: All I knew from looking at your photo was that it was a fly. I looked through my insect guide for it, but it wasn't there. I tried some obvious terms on Google, things like [fly "framed wings" UK], and they didn't help either. When I went back from your photo to reread your description, there were a few answers, and they sent me back to the insect guide looking for picture winged flies. There's one example in there, and it's clearly not a match, but the text mentioned that they have some characteristic wing-waving behaviour, and I wondered if that might be part of the movement you noticed. So I went back to Google and looked for ["picture winged fly" UK OR England OR Oxfordshire]. I looked for British wildlife forums in the search results, because they're often a good source for this sort of thing, and the second one I tried led to success.

Thanks for reporting back and finding the extra photos. I'd also love to see a video!
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 5:32 AM on July 30, 2011

Glad I could add a bit to the puzzle. If you can get more pictures or (exciting day!) a video, consider posting it at the Encyclopedia of Life's Flickr Group. Images and videos are curated by scientists and added to EOL pages.

ManyLeggedCreature, your Google-fu is strong. I've hardly ever had that much success. Great work!
posted by Made of Star Stuff at 10:58 AM on July 30, 2011

This isn't the exact same type of fly, but I think this is the movement the OP was talking about:
Picture-winged Fly (Ulidiidae: Chaetopsis) Wing-wagging Behavior
posted by anotherkate at 11:33 PM on July 31, 2011

You've already got the answer, but I just wanted to add that I saw one of these on my kitchen table in Oxford (Summertown) this morning.
posted by brianogilvie at 4:52 AM on August 6, 2011

« Older BookFilter- recomend a great book to me!   |   Panning for email addresses Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.