Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Bathroom Moth Fly

The festively painted latrine building at Ottawa National Wildlife Refuge, at the jumping off spot for hikes way out onto the dikes surrounding the large, impounded marshes. I'm not sure when the latrine got this fancy wrapping, but it looks good. Sort of the artistic equivalent of putting lipstick on a pig, perhaps, but who's complaining?

I made an epic trip to the western Lake Erie marshes back on August 18, mostly seeking birds. There were plenty of those to be found, and I managed many nice photographs of shorebirds and other avian subjects. There had been a Black-bellied Whistling-Duck in the marshes to the north of the art latrine, and I hoofed a few miles around the dikes in a futile quest for that, along with my friend Kathy Cubert, who I had run into at Howard Marsh. Kathy did get to see these little gems that I fortuitously stumbled into that morning.

Anyway, before embarking on the Ottawa trek, I nipped into the art latrine, and made another fortuitous discovery that is the subject of this post.

The entrances to the art latrine, boys on right, girls on left. This side sports the coolest art, too, what with the Bald Eagle, Blanding's Turtle, American Water Lotus and other Ottawa NWR biota. I entered on the right, and for purposes of this study it must be noted that I did not go into the other side.

The latrine's interior. Rather grim in comparison to the building's gaudy exterior, but nonetheless good habitat for one of our most interesting and resilient insects.

NOTE: I did not enter the latrine camera in hand. Only after discovering the subjects of this post during my brief, legitimate visit within did I return with camera gear. Two lenses were employed during this shoot: Canon's superb 16-35mm f/2.8L ultra-wide angle, and the workhorse (for me) 100mm f/2.8L macro lens. My major concern with this shoot was normal people seeing me and questioning why I'd be lurking in such a place with fancy camera gear. It could be hard to explain, and somewhat awkward but as fate would have it, it was a slow day at the marsh and no interlopers came along.

As I stood at the latrine, I noticed that the stark white walls were bespeckled with little dark dots. Upon closer inspection, I saw that they were amazing little "moths", except I knew that they were not actually moths. As it turned out, the specks were Bathroom Moth Flies (Clogmia albipunctata)! Well, this was quite exciting, and I know I would have to photo-document the wee beasts. How I've managed to overlook them up to now, I have no idea. I guess I just don't frequent the right places.

The Bathroom Moth Fly, in all its glory. Given the humble roots of its origin, the sewage-loving Dipteran is quite showy and truly does resemble a furry little moth. One regret that I have regarding this shoot - but I will eventually rectify - is that I didn't use my mega-macro Canon MP-E 65mm lens. The moth is only about 2.5mm in length. We're talking a true elfin, and almost beyond the capabilities of my 100mm macro. However, using the MP-E 65mm would have necessitated lugging a tripod into the latrine and guys lugging cameras and tripods into latrines raise suspicion. But who cares - this is in the name of science and next time I shall not be so concerned about what other people think. Besides, I was in a hurry to get out there and seek whistling-ducks.

Bathroom Moth Flies are thought to be tropical in origin, including the American tropics. As people (and our waste) spread throughout the world, so did the fly. Its larvae, which resemble little worms, consume some of the nastiest imaginable decaying organic material. Yep, they're down in that hole in photo #3, an almost unimaginable existence.

For me, the highest use of photography is for telling stories, and I have a lot of experience with that. Believe me, the thought crossed my mind while making this shoot that it would be cool to get photos of the larvae. Well, I'll take one for the team within reason, but doing what would have been necessary for larval shots of Bathroom Moth Flies was not within reason. Apparently, in addition to latrines, dirty kitchen sinks, trash-filled water holes and other undesirable sites, the moth flies also use water-filled tree holes. The latter, I might possibly do larval exploration in. Deep in the bowels of latrines, not.

Next time I cross paths with Bathroom Moth Flies, I am going to work the beautiful adults more thoroughly. Even if it means hauling my rig and tripod into a latrine.


Julie Zickefoose said...

They like sinks too. Now that there’s only me rattling around in this big house I find if I don’t use a bathroom sink regularly, there might be a moth fly (I call them drain flies) on the wall. I understand that the cure is boiling water poured into the sink trap. You’ve inspired me with this charming photo to see what a zoomed iPhone and strong light might do! Thanks for the inspiration. I like that art latrine exterior. Interior gives me the heebies.

Mark Ray said...

We put in an extra shower in the Chillicothe house I grew up in. Soon, it seems, we had summoned forth a decent number of 'sewer flies' as we called them. Apparently, our amateur plumbing had created some habitat too, or at least provided an access into the basement from the main sewer drain.

Bill McDonald said...

Are they different from what I call gym flies? They are the one I notice in the showers.