Friday, July 6, 2012

Friday Fly: A simple solitary Syritta pipiens

Hoverfly ponders the portent of new potatoes 
Give the Home Bug Gardener a sunny afternoon and a point-and-shoot camera, and the time flies. Fifty or sixty snaps later, the enthusiasm has waned, but optimism is peaking. Then comes the downer of the download. Still, attention to the advice of Alex Wild at Myrmecos and Compound Eye combined with persistence and luck saves a few images from the trash Well, perhaps more should be trashed, but I found the picture above a pleasing composition, if not a good illustration of an interesting little (~9 mm) hoverfly.
Syritta pipiens captured at cinquefoil by DSLR
To actually see the hoverfly in all its glory, we must default to HBG's better two-thirds and her wonderful, if aging, Nikon D70 and flash. And what we see is one of Linnaeus' species from 1758 - then known as Musca pipiens, but now Syritta pipiens (L., 1758). The parentheses indicate that the species has moved to a new genus from the one Linnaeus put it in (now reserved for flies like the House Fly) and the the 'L.' indicates that Linnaeus is famous enough to get along on a single letter. What 'Syritta" and 'pipiens' (the spellchecker insists the latter should be 'pippins' - a kind of apple or musical, take your pick) is more difficult to determine.
Neither pipping nor chirping, Syritta pipiens is a mystery
The genus is pretty much Old World (our species is a colonist), out of Africa, and described a long time ago by Le Peletier & Serville in 1828. I don't think an enquiring email will help. The most recent revision of the genus is silent on the subject (Lyneborg & Barkemeyer 2005). Google and Donald Borror's book on scientific word roots both fail when 'Syritta' is the challenge. Perhaps it comes from the rather free-wheeling substitution of y for i in 'sir-' - Greek for a kind of wasp (and the fly is a bit of a wasp mimic)? So, Syritta may mean 'little wasp', but the meaning of pipiens should need no explanation: making a pipping or chirping noise. When used for frogs such as Lithobates (formerly Rana) pipiens - the Northern Leopard Frog - the meaning is relatively clear, but for a hoverfly (or mosquito like Culex pipiens)?
When potatoes flower, in theory, a hungry gardener could harvest some small, but tasty new potatoes
I think this post must end in an etymological funk. If I were trying to earn my living as an etymologist (or a photographer), I suppose this would be a week when I hadn't earned my pay. Fortunately, I have other skills that Society seems to value and I have been able to nurse my potato crop along to the flowering stage. I think that tonight, one Norland will be sacrificed to test the hypothesis the flowering indicates a meal in waiting. 

Leif Lyneborg & Werner Barkemeyer. 2005. The Genus Syritta: A World Revision of the Genus Syritta Le Peletier & Serville, 1828 (Diptera, Syrphidae). Apollo Books.

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