Ukasi Rock, a towering rock boulder rising about 20-25 M in height, might not be much of a tourist attraction until you pair it with a very rare breed of wingless fly only endemic to these parts known as the Frightful Hairy Fly (Mormotomyia hirsuta).
First described by entomologist E.E. Austen in 1936, the Frightful Hairy Fly, also commonly called the Terrible Hairy Fly, is considered the rarest known fly in the world so just spotting one is considered a lifetime achievement!
While a spotting is rare enough, taking a photo of the Frightful Hairy Fly is considered the stuff of legend – even we do not have a photo of one. In fact, the one on this article has been used with permission from the Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund.
The best time to visit and raise chances of a sighting, going by the timings of all expeditions made to the site so far, seems to be during the rainy season. The fly is a remarkable sight to see.
Its unusual features, including its reduced eyes and fore-wings and enormously long legs covered in immensely long hairs that it uses as a parachute to drift down from the roof of crevices at Ukasi Rock, make it an entomological treasure.
The long legs also allow the fly to move in quick, spider-like movements over the thick bat guano accumulations. There is fear that the Frightful Hairy Fly may be facing possible extinction.
This is why, through the efforts of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) and the National Museums of Kenya, the area around Ukasi Rock was recently declared a protected site and a national monument.
While at Ukasi, you can get the extra bonus of spotting bats in the crevices. Some of the crevices are large enough to be small caves. Grab the opportunity as well to take in great views of the surrounding scenery from the top of Ukasi Hill.
When the Frightful Hairy Fly was first discovered at Ukasi Rock in 1933 by Major H.B. Sharpe, then District Commissioner of the larger Garissa district, he talked of seeing the flies ‘floating’ from above like feathers in a spiral pattern.
Since then numerous expeditions have set off for the rock and only 2 have succeeded in spotting the fly in its typical locality in a bat roost wedged into a split boulder at the top of the rock.
The first visit since Sharpe’s discovery was on November 30th. A second expedition was made to the site on February 8-9 2010 to gather rock samples for geological characterisation of the Ukasi Rock boulder and to explore within the large cleft.
A third expedition was conducted on April 21st 2011, when the long rains would normally have begun. Ukasi nowadays has many other issues to grapple with besides the mystical fly, including insecurity from Somali banditry but it still remains a fascinating place you can visit. You never know, your proverbial 5 minutes of glory may be waiting for you here!