Posts Tagged: drone fly
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)
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.