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)
Will the real honey bee stand up?
Not all bees are honey bees and not all floral visitors that look like bees are bees. Sometimes they're flies.
A recent trip to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden located next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road at the University of California, Davis yielded a variety of floral visitors.
They all took a'liking to the 8-foot-tall Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia), as orange as a Halloween pumpkin.
The floral visitors?
One was a drone fly (Ristalis tenax).
One was a sunflower bee (Svastra obliqua expurgata).
And one was a honey bee (Apis mellifera).
Scores of editors have mistaken drone flies and sunflower bees for honey bees and published photos that make entomologists cringe.
Entomologist/insect photographer Alex Wild of the University of Illinois (he received his doctorate in entomology at UC Davis with major professor Phil Ward), wrote an eye-opening piece on his Scientific American blog about mistaken insect identities. You'll want to read this--and then take a look at his amazing Myrmecos site.
And if you want to learn about insect photography from a master, be sure to attend his seminar from 12:10 to 1 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 26 in 122 Briggs Hall, UC Davis. His topic: "How to Take Better Insect Photographs."
And maybe he'll mention that Bees of the World book cover. The image is a fly.
Drone fly visiting the Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Sunflower bee packing a load of pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Honey bee nectaring a Mexican sunflower. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
"If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck," or so the saying goes.
But if it looks like a honey bee, moves around on blossoms like a honey bee, and feeds on nectar and pollen like a honey bee, it may not be a honey bee.
It could be a flower fly or syrphid in the Syrphidae family.
The syrphids suffer from multiple cases of mistaken identity.
One of the syprhids commonly mistaken for a honey bee (Apis mellifera) is the drone fly (Eristalis tenax).
We spotted a drone fly--the first we've seen this year--on Feb. 5 in Tomales, Marin County. It was nectaring a pincushion flower (Seabiosa columbaria) at the Mostly Natives Nursery.
"There's a bee!" someone exclaimed.
It wasn't. It was a drone fly.
In its larval stage, it's known as a rat-tailed maggot. You'll see it in stagnant water, such as in ditches, ponds and drains. It feeds on stagnant rotting organic material.
In its adult stage, it moves from flower to flower, sipping nectar and pollinating flowers. Watch it hover and you know it's not a honey bee. Look at its two wings, and you know it's not a honey bee (the honey bee has four).
Lots of other differences, too.
It's a good pollinator, but a honey bee, it is not.
Yarrow, yarrow, yarrow.
Drone fly, drone fly, drone fly.
This little insect is often mistaken for a honey bee. In the adult stage, both the drone fly and honey bee nectar flowers. However, the drone fly is a syrphid fly (family Syrphidae, subfamily Eristalinae, tribe Eristalini, genus, Eristalis). Like all syrphids, it has two wings. The honey bee has four.
Other distinct differences tell you it's a fly, not a bee. It's amazing, though, how often stock photos proclaim "honey bee" when the insect is actually a drone fly.
In its larval stage, the drone fly is known as a rat-tailed maggot. You'll see it in stagnant water, such as in ditches, ponds and drains. It feeds on stagnant rotting organic material.
We spotted this drone fly sipping nectar on a brilliant yellow yarrow (Achillea millefolium). If you look closely, you'll see yellow pollen clinging to its abdomen.
Flies, too, are pollinators!