So, here I am, an Asian lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis) perched on a rose bush in Vacaville, Calif., as dawn breaks. I'm eating aphids and minding my own beetle business, which consists of gobbling aphids and more aphids. And more aphids. Did I say more aphids? More aphids.
Wait, what's that? Something is heading straight toward me, its wings are flapping like crazy. Hey, I was here first. Go away!
Whoa, what are you doing? You've landed and you're licking me. What do you think I am, a honey stick?
That's what happened during a backyard encounter with an Asian lady beetle and a large syrphid fly. The fly, identified by senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the Plant Pest Diagnostic Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture, is a female Scaeva pyrastri.
Hauser and Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, agreed that the syrphid fly is "going after honeydew on the beetle's head." Honeydew is a sugary, sticky liquid that aphids secrete when they're feeding on plant juices.
"The beetle was full of honeydew from feasting on aphids," Hauser noted, "and that is what the fly was after."
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?
Will all the pollinators please stand up!
Or do a fly-by like the Blue Angels or a crawl-by like babies competing in a diaper derby.
Bees--there are more than 4000 of them in North America--are the main pollinators, but don't overlook butterflies, beetles, birds, bats and moths.
Here's proof positive that flies can pollinate. If you look closely at this little bee fly on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia), you'll see that it has just grabbed some pollen. It's a member of the genus, Villa, and family, Bombyliidae, according to fly expert Martin Hauser of the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
Many folks mistake flies for bees. Look through any stock photo catalog or macro insect images on Flickr or a Facebook page and you'll often see hover flies, bee flies and other flies identified as bees.
Three of the easiest ways to differentiate a fly from a bee:
- A fly has one set of wings. A bee has two sets.
- A fly has short, stubby antennae. A honey bee doesn't.
- A fly has no corbicula or pollen basket. A honey bee (worker bee) does.
Welcome to the Pollination Nation!
For more information on bee flies, see BugGuide.net. For syrphids, aka flower flies or hover flies, read the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management's information on managing pests or read entomologist Robert Bugg's free downloadable PDF on the UC ANR website, Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids (Publication No. 8285).
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.
It's about raising awareness for heart disease, the No. 1 killer of both men and women. It's a battle we need to fight with an arsenal of weapons.
Spearheading the campuswide initiative is Chancellor Linda Katehi, partnering with Dr. Amparo Villablanca, director of the UC Davis Women's Cardiovascular Medicine Program, and Adele Zhang, curator of the UC Davis Design Museum. For the occasion, the UC Davis Bookstore is selling specially designed t-shirts. Red, of course. With a heart, of course.
A highlight of the events-crowded day will be an attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Record for the largest heart formation. The current record: 11,166, set Feb. 27, 2010 in Nuevo León, Mexico.
So UC Davis is inviting everyone, everyone everywhere, to wear red and gather at 11:30 a.m. on Hutchison Intramural Field, rain or shine. The photo will be taken at 12:30.
It's unlikely that insects, the key subject of this blog, will be a part of the red heart formation, but hey, some insects are red, some are red-eyed and some occasionally wear red.
The lady beetle, aka ladybug (family Coccinellidae, is probably the most recognizable red of our insects.
The flameskimmer dragonfly, Libellula saturata, is a showstopping red. Firecracker red!
Some flies have prominent red eyes, including the flesh fly from the family Sarcophagidae.
And honey bees--they can play the red game, too. They gather red pollen from a variety of plants, including rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis), pear (Pyrus communis),and henbit (Lamium amplexicaule).
Frankly, we think it might rain during the heart formation, but as the UC Davis officials say: “Heart disease doesn't stop for rain and neither do we!"
We'll see red and the heart formation will be a sea of red. Maybe 11,167.