Posts Tagged: syrphid fly
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)
It's a bug-eat-bug world out there.
Today we watched a syrphid fly, aka "hover fly" and "flower fly," circling a blanket flower (Gaillardia) and then touching down to sip a little nectar.
Syrphids are called "hover flies" for good reason. They "hover" over a blossom, helicoperlike. They're often mistaken for bees but to the trained eye, they really look nothing alike. Folks confuse them because both bees and syrphids are floral visitors and both are pollinators.
If it's a floral visitor, it must be a bee, right? Wrong.
Anyway, this syrphid touched down on the blossom to sip nectar, its wings glinting in the early morning sun. Finally, it spotted the danger, a jumping spider lurking on the other side. The crafty predator lunged. Missed!
When we returned a few minutes later, however, we saw the jumping spider beneath the petals, feasting on the syrphid.
Quickness is an attribute--whether you're a jumping spider or a syrphid.
If you want to learn more about flower flies, read entomologist Robert Bugg's "Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops" (Publication 8285, May 2008, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.)
Syrphid fly (right) circles a blanket flower, unaware of the jumping spider. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Syrphid fly sipping nectar close to the predator. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
End result--the jumping spider feasting on the syrphid fly. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
Ah, the little intricacies of life...
We were walking along a stretch of the coastal town of Bodega Bay when we spotted something we'd never seen before: a bubble on a syrphid fly.
Syrphid flies, also known as hover flies or flower flies, are pollinators, just like honey bees. As floral visitors, syrphids are often mistaken for bees. They're not. They're flies.
But what was the bubble?
Several of our UC Davis entomologists weighed in.
"Weird, I wonder if that's an egg," said one entomologist. "Looks like the ovipositor is extended."
Said another: "If this were a honey bee, I would suggest that you shot your first defecation photo." (Spoken like the true honey bee expert he is!)
And another: "My guess is that droplet is fly (note: brace yourself--here comes the "p" word) poop, composed mostly of digested pollen grains that the flies commonly feed on. If you look closely at the abdomen of these flies, you often see the gut outlined with yellow or orange through the semi-translucent membrane areas of the abdomen due to the pollen they have ingested."
We asked fly expert and senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the California Department of Food and Agriculture's Plant Pest Diagnostic Branch for an I.D. of this syrphid fly. "A female Sphaerophoria," he said.
And, oh, yes, the bubble is not an egg. It's the "p double oh p" word with pollen inside. Hauser pointed out that the eggs are oval and white, so the yellow bubble is not an egg. Check out this photo of syrphid eggs on the bugguide.net website, Hauser said. And here's a image on bugguidenet.com of the syrphid fly ovipositing.
Sounds like a good question for an Entomology 101 quiz...
Or the Linnaean Games...
Syrphid fly (female Sphaerophoria), as identified by senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the CDFA. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Gavrey)
Close-up of "The Girl and the Bubble." See text above for what the bubble is. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
If you walk slowly into your garden or backyard, and observe your surroundings, you'll find them. A jumping spider perched on a rose leaf. A soldier beetle climbing out of a tulip. A syrphid fly, aka flower fly or hover fly, foraging on a poppy blossom.
The insects (and spiders!) are back. The springlike temperatures, accompanied by bursts of rain, mean that these tiny little critters are everywhere.
If you pop a macro lens on your single-lens reflex camera, or use the macro setting on your point-and-shoot camera, you'll get them. There's even a set of lenses (macro, wide-angle and telephoto) that magnetically attach to your I-phone camera.
Travelers say it's fun and educational to go to Africa on safari, but you can also go on a Bug Safari in your backyard. It won't cost nearly as much, you don't have to make reservations, you don't have to hire a tour guide, and you don't have to worry about a water buffalo charging you.
Or your credit card company charging you.
A jumping spider perched on a rose leaf. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A soldier beetle peers at the camera. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
A syrphid or flower fly foraging on a poppy blossom. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)
“If you were an aphid on a head of lettuce, a hoverfly larva would be a nightmare. They are voracious eaters of aphids. One larva per plant will control the aphids.”
That's what organic researcher Eric Brennan of the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), U.S. Department of Agriculture, told reporter Jim Robbins in a recently published New York Times article.
Headlined "Farmers Find Organic Arsenal to Wage Wars on Pests," the news story drew attention to why natural enemies are "key to the organic approach."
Brennan is based in Salinas Valley, known as "The Salad Bowl of America." It's reportedly where 80 percent of Americans get their greens.
And it's where the lettuce aphid gets its lettuce.
To help resolve the problem, organic farmers are planting alyssum in their lettuce beds. Hover flies "live in the alyssum and need a source of aphids to feed their young, so they lay their eggs in the lettuce," Robbins wrote. "When they hatch, the larvae start preying on the aphids."
Could be that the "salad days" are over for the aphids--thanks to Brennan, alyssum and hover flies.