Malcolm Smart's paper on Machimus robberflies

Malcolm Smart has kindly provided a copy of his 2005 paper (PDF download, 7MB) on the identification of three confusingly similar robberflies: Kite-tailed Robberfly Machimus atricapillus, Brown Heath Robberfly M. cingulatus and Irish Robberfly M. cowini. These species are similar in size and general colours, and although the markings on the legs are a very useful guide for identification they can vary, so consult the full details and key in Malcolm's paper to confirm identifications. Good photos that show the leg markings clearly, and from the correct angle, can usually be identified to species, but records of Machimus cowini need to be supported by detailed photos from a variety of angles, or by a specimen.

  • Kite-tailed Robberfly Machimus atricapillus: a variety of open habitats including grasslands, heathlands and woodland clearings. Common in the southern half of England and Wales, becoming scarcer north to southern Scotland (map via NBN).
  • Brown Heath Robberfly Machimus cingulatus: mostly found on heaths, dunes and other habitats with sandy soils, and more localised than atricapillus. More frequent in the south but extending north to Scotland (map via NBN).
  • Irish Robberfly M. cowini: a rare species, first discovered as new to science on the Isle of Man. It has subsequently been found in Ireland (coastal dunes), and since 2006 on the Cumbrian coast (map via NBN, but note that the record shown for the Welsh coast is incorrect).

Remember that there are other Machimus robberflies as well as these three! And robberflies in other genera such as Philonicus, Dysmachus and Pamponerus can look similar to Machimus at first glance, so check them carefully. See our identification resources page for more links to robberfly guides.

Machimus atricapillus and cingulatus images by Malcolm Smart
Two of the images from Malcolm Smart's paper