They're hairy. They're bristly. They're attention-getters.
They probably draw more "yecchs!" than most insects. All the more reason to love 'em.
Frankly, the tachinids (family Tachinidae, order Diptera) could never be misidentified as honey bees, as some pollinators such as hover flies, are. And yes, flies can be pollinators.
Entomologists tell us that worldwide, there are more than 8,200 identified species, and more than 1300 species in North America alone. Who knows how many more are out there?
The 2011 State of Observed Species (also called SOS), issued Jan. 18 by the International Institute for Species Exploration, Tempe, Ariz., lists 19,232 newly discovered species. Of that number, more than half--9,738--are insects. Those figures are already out of date. These newly discovered species were identified in 2009, the latest year statistics are available. It "takes up to two years to compile all newly reported species from thousands pf journals published in many languages," the SOS team says.
Check out the report, billed as "A Report Card on Our Knowledge of Earth's Species."
Who knows? If you're crawling around a flower bed, you might just discover a new tachinid.
The parasitic fly (family Tachinidae) never had a chance.
It went from floral visitor to spider prey to spider dinner when it made a single solitary mistake: it inadvertently fell into a sticky web.
Its life-and-death struggle in our back yard did not escape a trio of cellar spiders (family Pholcidae). They rapidly descended on the squirming fly.
This was the first time I've ever seen cellar spiders hunt together. While one wrapped it in silk for future dining pleasure, another administered a fatal bite. The powerful poison paralyzed it. Then one of the bigger spiders tugged the wrapped prey under the lip of our barbecue table. Out of sight.
Bon appetit! Table for three!
It's not easy identifying "what's for dinner" but Martin Hauser, a senior insect biosystematist with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture, said it's definitely a Tachinid fly. There are hundreds of Tachinidae genera, he says, but this one is very likely a Peleteria.
I'm just glad the catch of the day wasn't a honey bee.
It's a curious-looking insect, the tachinid fly.
The first thing you notice are the thick, dark bristles covering its abdomen. By human standards, this insect, about the size of a house fly, is not pretty. No way, no how.
But there it was, resting on a purple-leaf sand cherry (genus Cistus, rockrose family Cistaceae) in our garden.
As an adult, the tachinid fly nectars on flowers. In its larval stage, it's an internal parasite. The female is known for laying her eggs in Lepidoptera caterpillars and in the larvae of other insects. Hostest with the mostest?
Lepidoptera is a order that includes butterflies and moths, and if you study them, you're a lepidopterist.
California has more than 400 species of tachinid flies. There's even one species called the "Caterpillar Destroyer" (Lespesia archippivora). It targets the caterpillars of those graceful Monarch butterflies we see flitting through the flowers.
Most folks will look at a tachinid fly and mutter "Yecch! That sure is a weird-looking fly."
By human standards.
The red-pigmented white pitcher plant we purchased at the UC Davis Arboretum Plant Faire looks like a flamboyant coral reef. Like a hat askew, its ruffled “lid” hangs over the trumpet-shaped “pitcher.” The pitcher is actually a long, hollow tubular leaf.
But looks are deceiving.
Sarracenia leucophylla is a carnivorous plant. It draws insects and then devours them. In the few weeks we’ve had it, it’s gobbled blow flies, snagged tachinid (parasitic) flies, and horrors, it ate two of our beloved honey bees.
I do not think I like this plant.
Our bee friendly garden is no longer friendly. There’s war in our garden of peace. We have a weapon of mass destruction right in our own backyard. And you think Dracula is scary on Halloween!
Ernesto Sandoval, curator of the
“Ah, yes, the horrors of indiscriminate insectivity!” he says. “The Sarracenia, especially S. leucophylla are really good indicators of the relative abundance of insects and unfortunately, even honey bees are convinced to visit the flower-mimicking leaves.”
Sandoval says Sarracenia grow up and down the east coast of North America from
"The well-known Venus Fly Trap is native to
Meanwhile, I think I heard the plant burb.
Pity the poor caterpillar. Here you are, minding your own business, and this tachinid fly comes along and lays eggs in your head.
Good day for the tachinid fly. Bad day for the caterpillar.
The tachinid fly, from the family Tachinidae, is frequently seen buzzing around flowers, like this one (below) in the Storer Gardens at the UC Davis Arboretum. The adults feed on nectar.
"They're parasites," said Lynn Kimsey, chair of the Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology. "They often parasitize Lepidoptera caterpillars by laying eggs in them."
They also lay their minute eggs on plants, which caterpillars ingest. The eggs hatch inside the caterpillar, killing it.
"Inside the victims, the larvae breathe free air by perforating the body wall of the host or by a connection to its tracheal system," write Jerry Powell and Charles Hogue in their book, California Insects.
It is not a pretty sight. But then again, tachinid flies aren't pretty--unless you're another tachinid fly.