The extraordinary story of the hoverfly, the aphid and the ant

Yesterday at Parke in the wet meadows by the River Bovey I found this hoverfly Chrysotoxum bicinctum. I have never see this species before and it is new for Parke. It is characterised by the two distinct yellow bands on its abdomen.
Chrysotoxum bicinctumIt is a pretty fly with long antennae – they are usually found in grassy places near to trees and scrub – textbook!

Chrysotoxum bicinctumIt has a distribution which is rather misleading – this is the map from the National Biodiversity Network which makes it look rather common – it is better described as having a good geographic southern distribution but nowhere is it common i.e. it is very thin on the ground

The larvae of this species of hoverfly lives in the ground and feeds on aphids – so it is a predatory maggot. The aphids feed on the roots of various meadow plants. The aphids are ‘tended’ by a colony of ants who help protect and build the aphid nesting structures. In return for their work the ants feed on the honey dew produced by the aphids. Who would have thought that all of this was going on in a little water meadow on the edge of Dartmoor!

What a tangled web they weave. For more details on the relationship between aphids and ants see here and here.

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