At first glance, you may think the insect is a carpenter bee or bumble bee.
Then you see it hovering. Then you see its head. Then you see its stubby antennae.
It's a large black syrphid fly, aka flower fly or hover fly.
The genus Copestylum includes more than 350 species in the new world, according to Martin Hauser, senior insect biosystematist with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA).
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and UC Davis professor of entomology, says the female Mexican cactus fly lays its eggs in rotting or dying cactus tissue.
This fly, about 3/4 of an inch long, was a few inches short of a neighboring cactus, a torch cactus, Echinopsis spachiana.
The cactus is neither dying nor rotten.
The Mexican cactus fly simply stopped to sip some nectar from the Mexican sunflower.
Isn't it illegal to import stingless bees in the United States? It is.
So what's going on?
Members of the Pacific Coast Entomological Society and guests will find out when Martin Hauser, senior insect biosystematist with the Plant Pest Diagnostics Center, California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), speaks on “The Curious Case of the Stingless Bees of Palo Alto” on Thursday night, Feb. 27 on the UC Davis campus.
The society will meet at 7:30 p.m. in the conference room of the Museum of Wildlife and Fish Biology, Room 1371 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane.
“In 2013 we found a stingless bee colony in Palo Alto in a tree,” Hauser said, “and I had a very hard time identifying the species—the genus is Plebeia—and I had no idea how they made it into California and where they came from. Many years later and many strange events later, I figured all these things out.”
Hauser will discuss his research and also reveal how long stingless bees have been recorded in California.
The 7:30 p.m. meeting begins with a general business session, followed by Hauser's talk.
A pre-meeting dinner will begin at 6 p.m. at the KetMoRee restaurant in downtown Davis. Members and entomology associates interested in joining the group for dinner should e-mail Catherine "Kady" Tauber at email@example.com before Tuesday, Feb. 25.
The society meets six to eight times a year, usually at the California Academy of Sciences, UC Berkeley, or at the CDFA's Plant Pest Diagnostics Center. Membership in the society, organized in 1901, is open to everyone--amateurs and professionals alike. The annual membership fee is $25, and $12.50 for students. The society publishes the quarterly journal, The Pan-Pacific Entomologist. and the Bits and PES Newsletter for members residing within commuting distance of San Francisco.
You've probably seen them hovering over flowers, which is why syprhids are commonly called "hover flies" or "flower flies."
Enter Andrew Young.
He's a UC Davis postdoctoral researcher with the Department of California Food and Agriculture (CDFA) and he researches syrphids.
Young, who specializes in Diptera taxonomy and phylogenetics at CDFA, will present a seminar to the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology on "The Natural History of Syrphidae: from Pollinators to Parasitoids" at 4:10 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 5 in 122 Briggs Hall, off Kleiber Hall Drive.
"Syrphidae (Dlptera) is a species-rich family of true fly, with over 6200 described species worldwide," he says in his abstract. "Often known as flower flies or hover flies, syrphlds are likely the most significant group of pollinators outside of the bees--especially in Arctic climates. While research into their pollination-related behavior is still nascent, other aspects of flower fly biology have been relatively well-studied."
"Adults of many species are well-known for their impressive mimicry of stinging Hymenoptera, and known larvae display a degree of habitat diversity that is unusually broad for a single family of Diptera. Many larvae are predators on soft-bodied insects such as aphids, and therefore, show potential for crop-pest management, while others are aquatic filter-feeders that may have value in waste-management applications." (See UC Integrated Pest Management Program website on syrphids; in their larval stage, they feed on aphids.)
Young says he will give an overview of the current understanding of flower fly phylogeny, followed by an exploration of the varied many adult and larval natural histories known to the group. He will emphasize "many of the little-known larval life histories that are still actively being discovered by dedicated field researchers. I will conclude by briefly discussing some of my past, present and future flower fly research."
Young studied Syrphidae in the lab of Stephen Marshall, professor of entomology at the University of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. Marshall and Young are among the six co-authors of Field Guide to the Flower Flies of Northeastern North America" (Princeton University Press, 2019), a book described as "a groundbreaking guide to flower flies in North America."
From the Princeton University Press website: "Flower flies are, along with bees, our most important pollinators. Found in a varied range of habitats, from backyard gardens to aquatic ecosystems, these flies are often overlooked because many of their species mimic bees or wasps. Despite this, many species are distinctive and even subtly differentiated species can be accurately identified." The guide includes more than 3,000 color photographs and 400 maps, covering all 416 species of flower flies that occur north of Tennessee and east of the Dakotas, including the high Arctic and Greenland. Each species account provides information on size, identification, abundance, and flight time, along with notes on behavior, classification, hybridization, habitats, larvae, and more."
Lynn Kimsey, director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology and professor of entomology at UC Davis, is the seminar host. Community ecologist Rachel Vannette, assistant professor, coordinates the weekly seminars.
Upcoming seminars for the winter quarter (See speaker list) are at 4:10 p.m. on Wednesday in 122 Briggs Hall.
Wednesday, Feb. 12
Kevin Rice, University of Missouri, Columbia
Topic: "Lasers, Drones, and Growth Promoting Fungus: New Technologies for IPM"
Host: Ian Grettenberger, assistant professor
Wednesday, Feb. 19
Mercedes Burns, University of Maryland,>Baltimore County
Topic: (pending) She studies evolutionary ecology of reproductive traits and behaviors, sexual conflict, reproductive polymorphism, arthropod biology
Host: Jason Bond, professor and Schlinger Chair in Insect Systematics
Wednesday, Feb. 26:
Faculty Flash Talks (featuring faculty members Rachel Vannette, Ian Grettenberger, Shahid Siddique, Geoffrey Attardo, Jason Bond)
Wednesday, March 4
Brendon Boudinot, doctoral candidate, Phil Ward lab, exit seminar
Topic: "Morphology and Evolution of the Insects, and the Ancestors of the Ants"
Host: Phil Ward, professor
Find the green darner.
Trying to spot the green darner dragonfly, Anax junius--so named because of its resemblance to a darning needle--is like finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
But there it was, camouflaged in shrubbery on Sept. 23 in the Benicia Capitol State Historical Park.
This dragonfly, one of the most common and abundant species in the United States, as well as North America, is one of the few dragonflies that migrate. It migrates from the northern United States south into Texas and Mexico, according to Wikipedia. "It also occurs in the Caribbean, Tahiti, and Asia from Japan to mainland China."
The green darner is included in the Bohart Museum of Entomology's poster, "Dragonflies of California," available in its gift shop in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building, UC Davis campus. The poster is the work of entomologist Fran Keller, then a Ph.D student at UC Davis and now an assistant professor at Folsom Lake College, and Bohart associate and naturalist/photographer Greg Karoefelas. (See the Bohart Museum website.)
Did you know that the green darner is the official insect of the state of Washington, the Evergreen State? And it is one of the largest dragonflies in the order, Odonata? Males grow to 76 mm (3.0 in) in length with a wingspan of up to 80 mm (3.1 in)?
Females oviposit in aquatic vegetation, laying their eggs beneath the water surface. The nymphs (naiads) are aquatic carnivores, feasting on insects, tadpoles and small fish. The adults--they catch insects on the wing. Their prey includes flies and mosquitoes.
We remember several years ago when dragonfly/damselfly expert Rosser Garrison of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) shared his knowledge of Odonata--and showcased some of his global specimens--at the Bohart Museum.
Fossil records show that they were the world's largest flying insects--some with wingspans measuring three feet--and they existed before dinosaurs. "Dragonfly relatives existed before the onset of the dinosaurs---Triassic Period, 250 to 200 million years ago,” related Garrison, a senior insect biosystematist at CDFA. “They are considered beneficial since both larvae---all aquatic--and adults are predators."
That green darner we saw in Benicia wasn't preying or sewing up people's ears (darners have been called "devil's darning needles") but it was darn camera shy.
Find the green darner!
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."