Dhe black-necked camel-neck fly will be the “Insect of the Year 2022”. This was announced by the Frankfurt Senckenberg Society for Nature Research. A board of trustees of experts chaired by Thomas Schmitt, director of the Senckenberg German Entomological Institute in Müncheberg, selected the fly from a series of proposals.
As Senckenberg writes in support of this, camel neck flies are now considered the most species-poor order of insects with complete metamorphosis – i.e. with a pupal stage. From the many fossil finds, however, it can be deduced that the insects were represented in much greater diversity on earth during the lifetime of the dinosaurs. The “Insect of the Year” has been proclaimed since 1999. Austria’s Environment Minister Leonore Gewessler (The Greens) will be the patron for 2022.
Most species poor in the class of insects
Camel neck flies are characterized by a noticeably long neck and crystal clear wings. They reach a size of six to 15 millimeters. Their order (Raphidoptera) is the poorest in species in the class of insects; only about 250 species are known worldwide.
“In Central Europe there are 16 species described so far – one of them is our ‘Insect of the Year 2022’: the black-necked camel-necked fly Venustoraphidia nigricollis,” explains institute director Schmitt. “For a long time this species was considered to be one of the rarest camel neck flies – until it was recognized that the adult animals with the characteristic black pronotum are mostly in the canopy of trees.”
Occurrence in the middle of Vienna
A biotope for camel neck flies is located in the center of Vienna: two species have settled in the pines on Maria-Theresien-Platz. According to Senckenberg, the annual mass occurrence of these insects around a centuries-old farm in Upper Austria is unique in the world. A species introduced from the Mediterranean area has settled there at an altitude of 800 meters. Every year during the mating season from May to July, the animals can be observed there in large numbers.
Camel neck flies are land dwellers at all stages of life. The sexually mature insects are diurnal and often feed on aphids and scale insects. If they are numerous enough, camel neck fly larvae living in the bark can be useful as “opponents” for harmful insects such as bark beetles. “Despite their well-developed wings, the animals are still not good fliers, but rather move in a buzzing, hopping or flapping manner and never over long distances,” says Schmitt.
With dinosaurs, camel neck flies also disappeared
The distribution of camel neck flies is restricted to parts of the northern hemisphere, as they require a significant temperature drop for their development, as occurs, for example, in the Central European winter. From the many fossil finds, however, it can be concluded that the insects used to be much more widespread and more species-rich, as Schmitt explains. “The impact of the meteorite at the end of the Cretaceous Period, around 66 million years ago, didn’t just kill the dinosaurs – the resulting climatic changes only allowed the cold-adapted forms of camel neck flies to survive,” says the professor. “Their appearance, however, was already very similar to that of today’s species. The camel neck flies can therefore also be called ‘living fossils’. “
Although the camel neck flies in Central Europe can basically colonize all forests and parks or gardens, they have not been detected in many areas. Not yet, says Schmitt: “Most of the Central European species can be identified on the basis of photographs.” That is an exciting task for citizen scientists.