A wildlife conservation charity is getting set for a potentially record-breaking breeding season of a critically endangered rare insect that hasn’t been seen in the wild in eight years.
Pine hoverflies are only currently known to inhabit one small forest in the Cairngorms.
But keepers at the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS) are now caring for more than ever before at Highland Wildlife Park near Aviemore.
This comes as a result of the charity’s conservation breeding programme, which started in 2016 and is now responsible for the majority of Britain’s known population of the native species.
Almost all of the 156 larvae that hatched at the park last year are now becoming pupae, entering the next stage of their life cycle on their way to becoming adults.
Among them are ‘Larva Croft’ and ‘Pine-al Ritchie’, named by fans of project-funder Marvelous’ new video game, Story of Seasons: Pioneers of Olive Town.
Dr Helen Taylor, conservation programme manager at RZSS, said: “Our charity’s conservation breeding programme at Highland Wildlife Park is currently the best hope for the survival of this critically endangered species.
“Every individual matters, so it is really exciting to have more larvae pupating than ever before and nerve-wracking to have to wait and see how many complete the full cycle, from egg, to larva, to pupa, to adult.
“The process they go through is extraordinary. Inside the pupa case, these animals are breaking most of their body down into goo and then totally reassembling it to transition from a larva to an adult fly.
“Most people will be familiar with this idea from caterpillars turning into butterflies, but it really is a magical transformation.”
Next steps for the project including moving the pupae into a brand-new purpose-built breeding centre in the coming weeks.