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.
A fly, oh, my!
On the approval scale, they don't rank nearly as high as honey bees, but some are often mistaken for them.
Take the Eristalis stipator, which belongs to the family Syrphidae, the hover flies.
It's about the same size as a honey bee and it's a pollinator.
We recently spotted this one--a female Eristalis stipator, as identified by senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the California Department of Food and Agriculture--nectaring on tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. The colors are striking--both the colors of the fly and the flowers. It's a striped fly, with black and white bands, one superimposed gold band, and buff-colored hairs piled on the thorax. And the showy flower, aka "blood flower," is red-orange with a yellow hood.
Eristalis is a large genus of approximately 99 species. The Eristalis stipator has no common name, so we just call it Eristalis stipator.
Or a fly.
Members of the North American Forensic Entomology Association (NAFEA) will be special guests and presenters at the open house hosted from 1 to 5 p.m., Sunday, July 9 at the Bohart Museum of Entomology.
The event, free and open to the public, takes place in the Bohart Museum, located in Room 1124 of the Academic Surge Building on Crocker Lane, UC Davis campus.
NAFEA is meeting for a conference at UC Davis July 7-12 and the Bohart open house will be part of its outreach activities. The scientists will field questions throughout the event.
"We'll have scientists from across the country here at this family-friendly event,” said Tabatha Yang, the Bohart Museum's education and outreach coordinator. Family arts and crafts activities are featured at each open house. A popular activity planned for the July 9th open house is maggot art, in which maggots are dipped into non-toxic, water-based paint and placed on a “canvas” (paper) to crawl around and create a painting. The activity, coined by entomologist Rebecca O'Flaherty, a former graduate student at UC Davis, is a traditional part of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology's Briggs Hall offerings at the campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day.
Forensic entomologist Robert Kimsey of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology served as president of the organization in 2015. (See news feature about Kimsey, "The Fly Man of Alcatraz.") Current president is Jason Byrd of the Department Pathology, Immunology and Laboratory Medicine University of Florida College of Medicine. The goal of NAFEA is to promote the development of forensic entomology throughout North America and to encourage co-operation with other similar international bodies. NAFEA defines its mission as “to provide a cooperative arena for forensic entomologists to interact and collaborate in ways that enhance the science, moral and ethical foundation, and reputation of forensic entomology.”
The fly photo below is of a male flesh fly (Sarcophagidae), "very likely genus Sarcophaga" (http://bugguide.net/node/view/458576/bgimage), according to senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of of the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture.
The July 9th open house is one of three open houses scheduled this summer. The others are:
Saturday, July 22, Moth Night from 8 to 11 p.m.: Moth Night, held in conjunction with National Moth Week, will enable visitors to explore nighttime nature through a blacklighting setup, enabling the collection of moths and other insects. The event takes place in the courtyard in back of the Bohart Museum. The museum will be open throughout Moth Night.
Sunday, Aug. 27: Bark Beetles and Trees, Forest Health in California, from 1 to 4 p.m.: The event is in collaboration with Steve Seybold, USDA Forest Service entomologist and an associate of the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology. He and his students and staff will be there to show displays and answer questions.
The Bohart Museum, directed by Lynn Kimsey, professor of entomology at UC Davis, houses a global collection of nearly eight million specimens. It is also the home of the seventh largest insect collection in North America, and the California Insect Survey, a storehouse of the insect biodiversity. Noted entomologist Richard M. Bohart (1913-2007) founded the museum.
Special attractions include a “live” petting zoo, featuring Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and tarantulas. Visitors are invited to hold the insects and photograph them.
The museum's gift shop, open year around, includes T-shirts, sweatshirts, books, jewelry, posters, insect-collecting equipment and insect-themed candy.
The Bohart Museum's regular hours are from 9 a.m. to noon and 1 to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays. The museum is closed to the public on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays and on major holidays. Admission is free.
More information on the Bohart Museum is available by contacting (530) 752-0493 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Traffic: Note that Old Davis Road that goes past the Visitors' Information Center will be closed due to construction of a paving project (https://www.ucdavis.edu/news/paving-project-close-old-davis-road/) Visitors should enter the campus via Highway 113 and take the Hutchison exit. The parking lot closest to the Bohart Museum is Lot 46.
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."