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...
The next time you see a spider eating a bee snared in its web, look closely.
The spider may not be alone. It may have a dinner companion.
A freeloader fly.
The common name, "freeloader fly," refers to the Milichiidae family. These flies are very tiny, about 1 to 3 mm in length, so you may not notice them.
We took these photos with a 105mm macro lens last Friday at the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre pollinator garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, University of California, Davis.
These flies, identified by senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture, are curious little critters. Note the large heads and the red eyes ("the eyes of Milichiidae are often red, though this need not be obvious because many species of the flies are small and dusky," according to Wikipedia.)
Bees are everywhere in the garden and so are the orbweavers--on the zinnias, cosmos, roses and the Mexican sunflowers.
Predator catches prey, and here come the freeloader flies. There is such a thing as a free lunch.
Sharing a meal with a hungry spider, however, may have dire consequences for the freeloaders. They may become a side dish to the spider's main course.
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.
You want to know why flies are fantastic?
They are, you know. Just ask Martin Hauser of the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
He'll discuss "Why Flies Are Fantastic" at the Northern California Entomology Society meeting, set from 9:15 to 3 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3 in the conference room of the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District, 155 Mason Circle, Concord.
Hauser will speak at 11 a.m.
The event, open to club members and their guests, begins at 9:15 a.m. with registration and coffee. Five speakers, including Hauser, are booked on the agenda.
Bob Dowell of CDFA’s Plant-Integrated Pest Control will speak at 9:30 a.m. on the "Distribution, Phenology, Quarantine and Threat of Cherry Worm Fruit Flies in California,” followed at 10:15 a.m. by John Chitambar of the CDFA Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch. Chitambar, a nematologist, will discuss “Nematodes that Cause Economic Losses to Plants and Animals."
The schedule also includes the annual business meeting at 11:45 a.m., and a catered lunch at noon by Kinder’s.
The afternoon speakers: Curtis Takahashi of CDFA’s Integrated Pest Control, discussing “Control of Newly Arrived Exotic Wood Borers” at 1:15 p.m., and Larry Godfrey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology, who will zero in on "Improved Management of Cotton Aphids in Cotton and Citrus: Importance of Overwintering Populations in Pomegranates" at 2 p.m.
The Northern California Entomology Society is comprised of university faculty, researchers, pest abatement professionals, students and other interested persons. Current president is Leann Horning, an ag technician with the CDFA’s Biocontrol Program. Members will elect new officers--president and vice president-elect--during the business session.
The society meets three times a year: the first Thursday in February, usually in Sacramento; the first Thursday in May, at UC Davis; and the first Thursday in November in the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District conference room, Concord. Membership dues are $10 year.
Extension apiculturist Eric Mussen of the UC Davis Department of Entomology faculty serves as the secretary-treasurer. For further information, contact Mussen at email@example.com or telephone him at (530) 752-0472.
The first thing you notice about the fly is its brilliant red eyes.
They stand out like the proverbial elephant in the room.
But they are on a fly--a flesh fly.
Martin Hauser, an associate insect biosytematist in the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture, identified this little critter as a member of the Sarcophagidae family.
"Sarco" is Greek for flesh, and "phage" means eating.
Hauser, who earned his doctorate in entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is skilled at identifying insects. And he speaks German, French and English and studied Latin.
The red-eyed fly, which in its larval stage is associated with decaying flesh, sipped a little nectar and then paused momentarily to groom itself.
And pose for the camera.