Posts Tagged: drone fly
The drone fly, aka European hover fly, aka syrphid fly, doesn't get as much press as the other drone, the unmanned aircraft.
But the drone fly (Eristalis tenax), about the size of a honey bee and often mistaken for a honey bee, makes for great in-flight photos. It's sort of the Fat Albert of the Blue Angels.
Last weekend we watched a drone fly (distinguished by the "H" on its abdomen), hovering over an Iceland poppy (Papaver nudicaule). The rain-battered poppy certainly wouldn't have won any gold awards in a county fair's garden show.
But to the drone fly, bent on foraging, this was gold. It emerged with "gold dust" (pollen) on its head.
Yes, its larva are known as rat-tailed maggots and yes, they frequent manure piles, sewage drainage ditches and other water-polluted areas.
But the adults are pollinators. Significant pollinators, at that.
A drone fly, aka hover fly and syrphid fly, engaging in a little acrobatics over an Iceland poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Hover fly heading for an Iceland poppy. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This photo shows why drone flies are pollinators. Check out the pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
How many times have you encountered a "honey bee" on the Internet, in a book, magazine, newspaper or other publication, and found a syrphid fly misidentified as a honey bee?
It's truly amazing how often syrphid flies are mistaken for honey bees.
Take the Eristalis tenax, a European hover fly quite established in the United States.
And quite "established" as a honey bee.
It's a syprhid, in the family Syrphidae; in the subfamily, Eristalinee; in the tribe Eristalini; in the subtribe Eristalina; and in the genus, Eristalis.
It's typically called a drone fly (it's about the size of a male honey bee or drone) but some folks also call it a hover fly, a flower fly or a syprhid.
No matter what you call it, it's a fly, not a bee.
Now to the "rats" part.
Their larva is known as a rat-tailed maggot. Its long tail-like structure resembles that of a rat or a mouse. Sometimes it looks like a corn dog with a tail. Or a butterscotch-colored lollipop with a tail.
Rat-tailed maggots live in such habitats as sewers, manure pile pools, drainage ditches and other badly polluted areas. Which is probably why you don't see them. (And if you did, you'd know it wasn't a corn dog with a tail.)
But in the adult stage, they're pollinators. They go where the honey bees go.
You'll find the adult drone flies nectaring on such flowers as lavender, catmint, daisies, sunflowers and yarrow, and hear people exclaiming "Look at the bees!"
I'm waiting for someone to say "They used to be rat-tailed maggots."
A drone fly, Eristalis tenax, on a Shasta daisy at the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens.. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A drone fly,Eristalis tenax, on yarrow at the Luther Burbank Home and Gardens. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Close-up of a drone fly, Eristalis tenax. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Indeed, to the untrained eye, the drone fly (Eristalis tenax) appears to be a bee. It's not; it's a fly.
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, calls the drone fly "The H Bee." That's because there's an "H" on its abdomen (see photo). Like all flies, however, it can be distinguished by one pair of wings and stubby antennae. The larva of the fly is a rat-tailed maggot that lives in drainage ditches, pooled manure piles and other polluted water. The adults are floral visitors. Pollinators.
The "H Bee" was among the pollinators that Thorp discussed at the UC Davis Pollinator Gardening Workshop, hosted March 6 by the California Center for Urban Horticulture.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, switched from bee mimics (drone flies, syrphid flies and other insects) to talk about the "real" honey bees, Apis mellifera, which European colonists introduced to what is now the United States in 1622. "The honey bees' biggest problem today is malnourishment," he said. "A single honey bee colony requires an acre of bloom to meet its nutritional needs each day," he said.
The queen can lay 2000 eggs a day in peak season. "One cell of honey and one cell of pollen make one bee."
He urged the participants to "try to plant for late summer and fall bloom, when honey bees in California are having a hard time finding nectar and pollen resources."
Mussen cautioned that bees are subjected to toxic pollens and unnatural toxins (pesticides). Plants poisonous to bees include the California buckeye (Aesculus californica) death camas (Toxicoscordion venenosum), corn lily (Veratrum californicum) and some locoweeeds (Astragalus spp.)
Pesticides inside the hive (used to control varroa mites) and outside the hives can be fatal. However, he said, "any kind of pesticide a bee encounters--there's always a physiological change."
Following the morning-long speaker presentations, the participants visited the UC Davis Arboretum Teaching Nursery on Garrod Drive to check out and/or purchase Arboretum All-Stars and other plants, and they toured the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road that is under the wing of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. The garden is located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Among those traveling the longest distance were Lake Tahoe UC Master Gardeners Lynne Broche and Bonnie Turnbull and Turnbull's 14-year-old daughter, Jessie Brown, a junior Master Gardener and an avid insect photographer.
The ceanothus blooming in the haven especially drew the attention of the workshop participants. Insects foraging in the ceanothus included two so-called "H bees"--the honey bee and its impostor, the H-marked drone fly.
The drone fly, Eristalis tenax, is often mistaken for a bee. The fly has the letter "H" on its thorax. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
essie Brown, 14, a junior UC Master Gardener with the Lake Tahoe Master Gardeners, photographs insects in the ceanothus at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Poet Gertrude Stein, who coined "A rose is a rose is a rose," probably would have liked it.
Julia Child, maybe not.
We purchased a "Sparkle and Shine" yellow rose, related to the Julia Child Rose, last May at the rose sale sponsored by the California Center for Urban Horticulture, University of California, Davis. It's drawing quite a bit of attention from insects in our yard.
And not just from honey bees, earwigs and spottted cucumber beetles.
We recently spotted this drone fly (Eristalis tenax) foraging among the blossoms. Startled by the camera movement, it kept flying off, only to return within seconds.
At first glance, non-entomologists would probably identify it as a honey bee. It's a floral visitor, right?
Right. But not all floral visitors are flies, and not all pollination involves bees.
Wikipedia says that in its natural habitat, the drone fly "is more of a curiosity than a problem, and the adults are benficial pollinators."
It's the larva, the red-tailed maggot, that makes some people shudder. The larvae, as Wikipedia says, live "in drainage ditches, pools around manure piles, sewage, and similar places containing water badly polluted with organic matter."
So from a pool around a manure pile to a beautiful Sparkle and Shine yellow rose. Who would have thought?
A drone fly heads for a Sparkle and Shine blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A drone fly prepares for its descent. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Heading out, a drone fly pauses before take-off. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
No, it's not a honey bee.
But many people think all floral visitors are bees.
It's a fly. A drone fly.
Family: Syrphidae; subfamily Eristalinae; tribe Eristalini; genus, Eristalis. Like all syrphids, it has two wings. The honey bee has four.
In its larval stage, the drone fly is known as a rat-tailed maggot. You'll see it in stagnant water, floating in ditches, ponds and drains. It feeds on stagnant rotting organic material.
We spotted this drone fly last Sunday sipping nectar on our bulbine (Bulbine frutescens). The plant is known as a bulbine, typically meaning a bulbous plant, but Bulbine frutescens has no bulb.
The drone fly, a pollinator, glittered in the late afternoon sun as it headed for the bulbine.
Then came the "drone strike"--on the nectar!
Drone fly nectaring on bulbine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Sunlight glittering on a drone fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Drone fly in flight, heading toward bulbine. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)