A bizarre figure in the spotlight

The insect of the year 2022: the black-necked camel-neck fly (Image: Harald Bruckner)

A long neck and crystal-clear wings: the black-necked camel-neck fly will take on the role of ambassador for the insect world in Germany, Austria and Switzerland in the coming year: it was voted “Insect of the Year 2022”. In addition to her bizarre shape, the title holder and her relatives have other peculiarities, reports the Senckenberg Society for Natural Research: The comparatively few species today are remnants of a far greater diversity in the age of the dinosaurs. Apparently the camel neck flies also offer potential for civic research.

It all began in 1999 with the lacewing – since then a board of trustees made up of entomologists and representatives of scientific institutions has repeatedly presented a new “Insect of the Year”. The project has proven to be successful: “Experience so far shows that information about this ecologically extremely significant but often underestimated group of animals leads to broader knowledge and acceptance among the population and reduces unfounded prejudices,” writes the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research. For the year 2022, the experts have now decided in favor of the black-necked camel-neck fly (Venustoraphidia nigricollis), which is also representative of its relatives.

Often out of sight?

What was special about the insect of the year 2022 was its supposed rarity: “For a long time the black-necked camel-necked fly was considered one of the rarest representatives of its group – until it was recognized that the adult animals with the characteristic black pronotum were mostly in the canopy of trees”, says the chairman of the board of trustees Thomas Schmitt from the Senckenberg German Entomological Institute in Müncheberg. As he further explains, the camel neck flies (Raphidioptera) are the species-poorest order of the class of insects: There are only about 250 species of camel neck flies worldwide. They are all characterized by a remarkably long neck, crystal-clear wings and a size of six to 15 millimeters. “So far, 16 species have been described in Central Europe, including our insect from 2022,” says Schmitt.

All camel neck flies are diurnal and undergo a complete transformation from larva to adult insect. It is also interesting that they can obviously make a contribution to the control of pests. Because the adult insects often feed on aphids and scale insects. The camel neck fly larvae, some of which live in the bark, can also be useful as opponents of harmful insects such as bark beetles if there are sufficient numbers.

Although the camel neck flies in Central Europe could theoretically be widespread in forests and habitats such as parks or gardens, so far there is no evidence from many areas. “Still!” Emphasizes Schmitt. Because it is possible that further occurrences could now be uncovered: “Most of the Central European species can be identified on the basis of photographs – an exciting task for citizen science!”, Says the entomologist.

“Living fossils”

As the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung further reports, there are already “prominent” occurrences of camel neck flies: Surrounded by roaring traffic, two species have settled in the pine trees on Maria-Theresien-Platz in the center of Vienna. The annual mass appearance of a species that actually originates from the Mediterranean area around an old farm in Upper Austria is also unique worldwide.

Also interesting is what is known about the development history of camel neck flies, emphasizes the Senckenberg Society for Natural Research. From fossil finds one can therefore conclude that these insects were much more widespread and more species-rich in the history of the earth. “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,” explains Schmitt. “Their appearance, however, was already very similar to that of today’s species. The camel neck flies can therefore also be called ‘living fossils’, ”the entomologist concludes.

Source: Senckenberg Society for Natural Research

Recent Articles

Related Stories

Stay on op - Ge the daily news in your inbox