It's often mistaken for a honey bee.
It's not a honey bee. It's a hover fly or flower fly.
And this one, hovering around the plants last Saturday in the Storer Gardens at the University of California, Davis, looked like a Syrphus opinator to me.
So I asked UC Davis entomologist Robert "Bob" Bugg, who specializes in flower flies (Syrphidae), what it is.
"If I have to be an opinator, I'd opine that you're right," he quipped.
Bugg, who received his doctorate in entomology at UC Davis, does research on the biological control of insect pests, cover crops, and restoration ecology.
If you want to learn more about flower flies, read Dr. Bugg's "Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops" (Publication 8285, May 2008, University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.)
It blooms in winter and the bees love it.
Winter jasmine (Jasminum nudiflorum), a rambling vine with trumpetlike yellow flowers, is charming visitors in the Storer Gardens at the University of California, Davis. The plant originates from western China.
The six-petaled blossoms gleam like gold in the wintry garden. When the pelting rain strikes them, they look like delighted kindergarteners splashing around in yellow raincoats.
Don't be surprised to see winter jasmine among the selections in the half-acre bee friendly garden being planned at the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis. The nationwide landscape design competition, which ends Jan. 30, is sponsored by Häagen-Dazs. The garden is expected to be a reality by October.
Unfortunately, the winter jasmine has no fragrance. But that doesn't stop the bees from greeting and hugging the flowers and gathering pollen. It would take the long beak of a hummingbird to reach into the trumpetlike flower for the nectar. Or a carpenter bee to slit the corolla and steal the nectar.
But for now, on the afternoon of Jan. 24, 2009, the moments are golden.
I always thought the red-hot poker was primarily red.
This one in the Storer Gardens at the University of California, Davis, was mostly yellow.
It was Saturday, Dec. 20, 2008, five days before Christmas, and a lone honey bee, packed with pollen, was heading for the red-hot poker, variety "Christmas Cheer" (Kniphofia).
Seemed quite appropriate.
Pity the poor caterpillar. Here you are, minding your own business, and this tachinid fly comes along and lays eggs in your head.
Good day for the tachinid fly. Bad day for the caterpillar.
The tachinid fly, from the family Tachinidae, is frequently seen buzzing around flowers, like this one (below) in the Storer Gardens at the UC Davis Arboretum. The adults feed on nectar.
"They're parasites," said Lynn Kimsey, chair of the Department of Entomology and director of the Bohart Museum of Entomology. "They often parasitize Lepidoptera caterpillars by laying eggs in them."
They also lay their minute eggs on plants, which caterpillars ingest. The eggs hatch inside the caterpillar, killing it.
"Inside the victims, the larvae breathe free air by perforating the body wall of the host or by a connection to its tracheal system," write Jerry Powell and Charles Hogue in their book, California Insects.
It is not a pretty sight. But then again, tachinid flies aren't pretty--unless you're another tachinid fly.