Posts Tagged: syrphid flies
The bush germander (Teucrium fruticans) is definitely a great fall-winter plant that's a magnet for bees. Just look at the bees that frequent the germander in the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven on Bee Biology Road at UC Davis.
As soon as the temperature rises to a sunny 50 or 55 (good bee-flying weather), the honey bees head over to the haven from the nearby Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Last Saturday's visit to the haven yielded an "out-to-lunch" bunch that included a dozen honey bees in the germander and one syrphid fly (aka flower fly or hover fly). Bumble bee aficionado Gary Zamzow, one of the volunteers in the haven, found something better: A bumble bee, a queen Bombus melanopygus or black-tailed bumble bee, foraging in the germander.
The germander bush is one of several plants blooming in the haven in the dead of winter, according to Missy Borel, haven volunteer and program manager of the California Center for Urban Horticulture at UC Davis. Among the others blooming or just finishing a bloom:
- Autumn sage (Salvia greggii)
- Blanket flower (Gallardia)
- Bulbine (Bulbine frutescens)
- Butterfly rose (Rosa mutabilis)
- Catmint (Nepeta)
- Cleveland sage (Salvia clevelandii)
- Coreopsis (Coreopsis)
- Red hot poker (Kniphofia)
- Dwarf plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides)
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Betty Rollins’ )
- Lavender (Lavandula)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus)
- Sage (salvia)
- Seaside daisies (Erigeron glaucus 'Wayne Roderick')
"Honey bees in California will seek forage on warm sunny days in California," Thorp noted. "Some Asteraceae and mint family flowers will continue blooming and provide some food for honey bees, but they primarily rely on their stored honey to get them through the winter."
Honey bee foraging in bush germander. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Syrphid fly, aka flower fly or hover fly, visiting germander. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Every insect looks prettier when it lands on a tower of jewels (Echiium wildpretti).
When in full bloom, the 9-to-10-foot-high plant, native to the Canary Islands, blazes with firecracker-red flowers. It's a showstopper.
Syrphid flies, aka flower flies or hover flies, battle with honey bees to sip the sweet nectar.
The flower flies flit in and out of the blossoms, barely visible.
However, these insects suffer from an identity crisis. Their wasp-like coloring wards off predators. That same coloring confuses people, too. The average person on the street--or in a flower bed--thinks they're bees.
They're not. They're flies.
UC Davis-trained entomologist Robert Bugg wrote an excellent pamphlet on flower flies that's downloadable free from the UC Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources. Titled Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents (Publication 8285, May 2008), it will help you identity flower flies.
Not bees. Not wasps. Flies.
That's what it takes to capture images of syrphids, aka flower or hover flies.
They are oh, so tiny and they move oh, so quickly. As the morning dawns, you wait, camera poised, near their preferred blossoms. You'll need a keen eye and a quick trigger finger--not to mention a good macro lens and a high shutter speed to freeze a moment in time and space.
If you're stealthy and don't startle or shadow them, you can observe them nectaring just inches away from you. This is big game hunting, but with little insects.
And, another frozen moment in time and space.
If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it's probably a duck.
If it looks like a bee, buzzes like a bee, and visits flowers like a bee, it might not be a bee.
It could be a fly, or more specifically, a syrphid or flower fly.
Syrphids, also known as hover flies (from the family Syrphidae and order Diptera), are everywhere.
They hover over flowers like a helicopter over a meadow and then touch down. You'll see them nectaring blossoms, zipping from one flower to the other. When they're shadowed or startled, off they go.
Several of them were nectaring on our newly opened pink cactus blossoms this morning.
To the untrained eye, syrphids are often mistaken for honey bees. However, think number of wings (honey bees have four wings, syrphids have two), overall size, distinct coloration, and different antennae. Different antennae? Yes. Honey bees have long antennae bent at a right angle. Syrphids have a specialized bristle (arista) on the end of each antenna. It looks like a knob.
So, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's probably a duck.
If it visits flowers, it might not be a bee. It could "bee" a fly.