Backyard Orchard News
A freeloader. A moocher. A sponger.
That's the freeloader fly.
A praying mantis is polishing off the remains of a honey bee. Suddenly a black dot with wings edges closer and closer and grabs a bit of the prey.
So tiny. So persistent. So relentless. That's the freeloader fly.
Don't look at the mangled honey bee. Don't look at the hungry praying mantis.
Look at the freeloader fly. Wait a few seconds and you'll see another.
The scene: a camouflaged praying mantis is tucked beneath some African blue basil leaves and the light is fading fast. (You could say I took this image "on the fly.")
Senior Insect Biosystematist Martin Hauser of the Plant Pest Diagnostic Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) identified these "freeloader flies" as family Milichiidae and "likely the genus Desmometopa." See Wikipedia.
They are so tiny, Hauser says, that the mantids, spiders and Reduviidae (think assassin bugs) "don't bother chasing them away or even trying to eat them."
Hauser pointed out images of freeloader flies from BugGuide.net: http://bugguide.net/node/view/23319/bgimage
And look at all the freeloaders on this prey: http://bugguide.net/node/view/512989/bgimage
Back in March of 2012, agricultural entomologist Ted C. MacRae who writes a popular blog, Beetles in the Bush, posted an image of an assassin bug eating a stink bug. Check out all the flies engaging in what he calls kleptoparasitism--stealing food.
Everybody gets fed. Nobody leaves hungry.
Praying mantis eats a honey bee while a freeloader fly, family Milichilidae, does, too. Another freeloader edges closer. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
The freeloader fly is quite persistent. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Last weekend a little critter made its first-ever appearance in our family bee garden. It was neither a grand entrance nor a grand insect.
"A fly!" I thought, as I looked at its knoblike bristle or arista on the end of each antenna.
But its body--what little I could see of it before it winged out of there--definitely resembled a wasp. A Western yellowjacket (Vespula pensylvanica) or European paper wasp (Polistes dominula).
Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, identified it as a syrphid fly, genus Ceriana, family Syrphidae.
Talented Davis photographer Allan Jones captured an excellent photo of Ceriana in 2012. A full body shot: head, thorax and abdomen! His excellent image (second one, below) shows the distinguishing characteristics: two wings (fly), not four wings (bees, wasps), as well as the arista (fly) and the spongelike mouthparts (fly).
BugGuide.Net posted some excellent images of Ceriana on its site. Class: Insecta. Order, Diptera. Family: Syrphidae: Genus: Ceriana.
Ceriana is a genus of wasp mimics. Basically, it's a syrphid fly, a pollinator. It's also known as a hover fly or flower fly as it hovers, helicopterlike, over flowers before drops down to forage.
Would-be predators, no doubt, avoid Ceriana because of its coloration. "Oops, don't mess with that! That's a wasp!"
Picnickers who don't know a faux wasp from a real one would probably run from it, or swat at it.
"It's definitely a good mimic and probably gets a lot of protection from that coloration," said Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis.
This wasp mimic is actually a fly, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Davis photographer Allan Jones captured this fantastic image of the wasp mimic, Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is a Western yellowjacket, Vespula pensylvanic, which looks a lot like the wasp mimic, genus Ceriana. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
This is a European paper wasp, Polistes dominula. A syrphid fly mimics this. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Better, says retired Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, who today published the last edition of his newsletter, from the UC Apiaries. Last? "Or, it's the last edition I'm solely responsible for."
Mussen retired in June after 38 years of service. Now it's "Welcome, Elina Lastro," who joined the department this week.
"The summary data from this spring's suvey on winter colony loss is available for review on beeinformed.org, the public's entry to information from the Bee Informed Parnership (BIP)," Mussen wrote. "Since it is called winter loss, it does not necessarily record the total losses in many operations because colonies are lost over the entire year, picking up considerably in fall and winter. Until recently the summer losses, often replaced using colony splits, were unreported. The good news is that the national average loss declined to 20.7 percent, the best in about a decade. Not many beekeepers blamed CCD (no logical explanation) for their losses, but mites and starvation were leading explanations."
Mussen pointed out that "since the data was listed by state averages, I wondered if that data were placed on a map of the U.S., could we see some sort of regional patterns." So, he did just that.
"Using colored pencils and scribbling, I colored like a kindergartner (or at least like I did in kindergarten and still do.), I did not see much of a pattern that stuck out. The states with the highest average losses (over 60 percent) did form a cluster (Illinois, Indiana and Michigan). The states with losses in the 50 percent range were all east of the Mississippi River: Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, West Virginia, New York and New Hampshire. States with losses in the 40 percent range were spread equally all over the country: Oregon, Arizona, Nebraska, Texas, Minnesota, Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Connecticut.
"States with losses in the 30 percent range filled in a swath of states just south of the 50 and 60 percent losses, as well as Washington, Utah, South Dakota, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine. States with losses in the 20 percent range included seven of our southeastern states: Montana, Colorado, New Mexico, and Kansas. California, Idaho, Oklahoma and Hawaii showed state average losses below 20 percent."
A honey bee foraging on a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A sip of nectar from a zinnia. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Foxgloves, meet the European wool carder bee.
European wool carder bee, meet the foxgloves.
It's like "old home week" when these two get together. The plant (Digitalis purpurea) and the bee (Anthidium manicatum) are both native to Europe.
European wool carder bees, so named because the females collect or "card" leaf fuzz for their nests, were introduced in New York in 1963, and then began spreading west. They were first recorded in California (Sunnyvale) in 2007.
Honey bees (Apis mellifera) arrived in America 341 years before their cousins. European colonists brought the honey bee to America (Jamestown colony, Virginia) in 1622, but the honey bees didn't make it to California (San Jose area) until 1853.
Now they're together again, so to speak, but it's not a happy situation when a male wool carder bee spots a foraging honey bee.
Male European wool carder bees are very aggressive and territorial. They'll "bonk" other insects that land on "their" flowers such as lamb's ear, catmint and basil. They'll bodyslam honey bees, butterflies, sweat bees, carpenter bees, bumble bees and even a hungry praying mantis or an eight-legged spider (arachnid) or two. It's all about trying to save the floral resources for their own species so they can mate and reproduce.
One thing is certain: honey bees forage faster when those foxy male European wool carder bees buzz the garden.
They know each other well.
Male European wool carder bee heads for a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
What's inside? This male European carder bee is investigating. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey(
Male European carder bee (right) targeting a honey bee that is seeking nectar from a hole drilled by a carpenter bee. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
European wool carder bee nestled inside a foxglove. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
We've trained puppies to "come," "sit" and "heel."
We've trained an African grey parrot to say "Here, kitty, kitty, kitty! Meow!"
We've trained the kitty to ignore the parrot.
But how do you train a praying mantis?
Our resident praying mantis, the lean green machine, conceals himself in the African blue basil. That's been home, sweet home for the past week. Before that, it was the lantana, catmint, Mexican sunflower and cosmos. He goes where the bees are and the bees are now all over the African blue basil.
We cannot create a "No fly zone." We cannot ban the bees from traveling. And we cannot ban the praying mantis from doing what he does best: ambushing prey and eating them.
Lately, however, he's allowed us to photograph him in the early morning, before his bee breakfast.
He does not respond to "Say cheese!"
Nor does he respond to "Say bee!" Or "Say Apis mellifera!"
You cannot train a praying mantis.
Praying mantis stretches in the African blue basil. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A little aerobics under the cosmos, as a bee does a flyover. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
It's not "Say cheese!" It's "Say bee!" (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)