One of Buck Owens' signature songs that never failed to please his fan base was "I Got a Tiger by the Tail."
The Country-Hall-of-Fame singer, who died in 2006 at age 76, said the lyrics came to him after he noticed a gas station sign advertising "Put a tiger in your tank." (Source: Wikipedia)
"I've got a tiger by the tail, it's plain to see," sang Buck Owens. "I won't be much when you get through with me..."
Well, he's not the only one with a "tiger by the tail."
We recently spotted male longhorn bees, probably Melissodes agilis, targeting Western tiger swallowtails, Papilio rutulus, in our family's pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif. The butterflies were trying to sip nectar from the 8 to 10-foot-high Mexican sunflowers (genus Tithonia).
Who knew that sipping nectar could be so difficult? The extremely territorial male longhorn bees kept trying to push the "tigers" off the Tithonia by dive-bombing them, slamming into them, and then regrouping for more aerial assaults. Their goal: to save the resources for their own species.
And then it happened. A longhorn bee slid through a tiger's tail.
A tiger by the tail.
Talk about a butterfly ballet...
A large Western tiger swallowtail, Papilio rutulus, with a wingspan of about four inches, flutters into the Vacaville, Calif. pollinator garden and lands on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia). It proceeds to nectar, unaware that the patch "belongs" to a male territorial longhorn bee. The bee, probably a Melissodes agilis, is saving it for the female of the species, not for "intruders."
The bee targets the brightly colored yellow and black butterfly. It buzzes the wings, returns, executes a barrel roll and dive-bombs the butterfly. Again. Again. And again. From all sides.
What to do? Continue sipping nectar or flee?
The Western tiger swallowtail takes flight, but just heads to another Tithonia blossom where the aerial assault continues.
It was not a good way to welcome an admiral.
The Red Admiral butterfly, that is.
The Vanessa atalanta fluttered into our pollinator garden on Sunday, July 16 in Vacaville, Calif., and touched down on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
The warmth of the sun, the rich nectar, a soft breeze, and all was well.
For a little while.
Several territorial male long-horned bees spied the stranger and pulled out the welcome mat. In a frenzy, they began dive-bombing the colorful black and red butterfly, trying to chase it away. "Those flowers are for our girls!" they seemed to say. "Leave! Now!"
Everywhere the butterfly went, a squadron of bombers followed. The sailboat-like wings proved a clear target.
One bullet-of-a-bee, probably a Melissodes agilis, slammed into the butterfly's wings, and that was enough.
"This pollinator garden's not big enough for both of us!"
It's often mistaken for a honey bee. Hey, isn't every floral visitor a bee? No, not by a long shot. One's a fly and one's a bee.
That came to mind last weekend when we saw a large number of honey bees (Apis mellifera) and drone flies (Eristalis tenax) nectaring on Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia). The feeding frenzy brought back all the Internet images of mistaken identities. And the arguments.
That's a bee!
No, it's not. It's a fly.
That's no fly. That's a bee.
It's a fly. Bee-lieve me!
To the untrained eye, they look alike at first glance. They're both insects, they're about the same size, and they're both pollinators.
The drone fly, though, in its immature stage is a rat-tailed maggot that lives in drainage ditches, hangs out around manure piles and sewage, and its idea of a pool party is water that is badly polluted.
Honey bees gather nectar and pollen (and water and propolis) for their colonies. Nectar is their carbohydrate and pollen is their protein.
Drone flies mimic bees in color, size and nectaring behavior. They're actually hover flies, members of the family Syrphidae. Watch them hover over flowers like a helicopter.
Lately, we've been seeing an influx of drone flies in our little pollinator garden. Look closely at their large eyes and stubby antennae and you can easily distinguish them from honey bees. Then notice the "H" on their abdomen. Maybe that's "H" for hello? Or "H" for Halloween? Or, or "H" as in "Hey, I'm not a bee! I just mimic a bee so you'll think I'll sting you."
They're bluffing. Drone flies don't sting.
Everybody eats in the pollinator garden.
Maybe not at the same time, but they all eat.
We noticed a syrphid fly, aka flower fly/hover fly, heading toward a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia) in our pollinator garden. Alas for the fly, it was occupied. Occupied by a honey bee (Apis mellifera).
The honey bee soon buzzed off, and the syrphid claimed it.
The honey bee returned and took a turn.
Then another fly, a drone fly (Eristallis tenax), claimed it.
Interesting that all three are sometimes called "bees," much to the chagrin of entomologists and other scientists. It just goes to prove that not all floral visitors are flies.
- Honey bee: Order, Hymenoptera; Family Apidae
- Syrphid fly: Order, Diptera; Family Syrphidae
- Drone fly: Order, Diptera; Family Syrphidae
But they do have several things in common: (1) they're insects (2) they're pollinators (3) they're hungry and (4) they like nectar just as much as humans like sugar, especially on Halloween. And doesn't orange symbolize Halloween?