If your dog is well, a little chunky, you're probably accustomed to someone saying "Fido never misses a meal, does he?"
Well, those little freeloader flies never miss a meal, either.
They not only never miss a meal, but they're never late for dinner. First come, first served. Table for 12, please.
Such was the case last weekend when a banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata) trapped a bee in its web, wrapped it, and was all set to eat it.
Wait! Where did all those uninvited guests come from? (Family Milichiidae, and probably genus Desmometopa,)
The spider reluctantly abandons its prey.
"All right," the spider seems say. "Have at it. I'll get another one."
There is such a thing as a free lunch. And a free breakfast. And a free dinner.
And a free snack.
That is, if you're a freeloader fly.
If you've ever watched a spider snare a bee or other insect in its web, and wrap it like a fit-to-be-tied holiday present, you've probably seen tiny little freeloader flies dining on the prey.
They are so tiny--usually 1 to 3 mm in length--that it takes a keen eye to spot them if they're not moving. The eyes are often red though "this need not be obvious because many species of the flies are small and dusky."
The close-up below is a hand-held photo taken with a Canon EOS 7D with a MPE-65mm lens.
Freeloader flies belong to the family Milichiidae. The close-up below may be in the genus Desmometopa, but it's difficult to tell by the image, says Martin Hauser, senior insect biosystematist with the Plant Pest Diagnostics, California Department of Food and Agriculture.
As it turned out, the spider dropped its prey and the freeloaders flies didn't have to leave the table.
Peter Pan vowed he'd never grow up.
"I won't grow up!" yelled the boy, a figment of a Scottish novelist's imagination. "I won't grow up!"
So it is with Peter Pan Agapanthus (Agapanthus africanus), a dwarf version of a spectacular flower known as Lily of the Nile.
It won't grow up.
And that's a good thing.
Sometimes good things come in small blue packages. Honey bees go absolutely berserk over this little African lily.
It's fascinating to watch honey bees gleefully slide down the funnel-shaped blossom as if they possess an E ticket. The funnel is a floral playground and the bees are Peter Pan bees.
Quick! How many legs does a honey bee have?
If you said "three pairs" or "six legs," you'd bee right.
But have you ever noticed the honey bee in flight?
The worker bee packs pollen in her pollen baskets or corbiculae, located on the midsegments of her outer hind legs.
The legs are fringed with long, curved hairs that hold the pollen in place. Once she's gathered pollen, she moves it to the pollen press located between the two largest segments of the hind leg.
The pollen press basically presses the pollen into pellets.
Sometimes the pollen load looks as big as a beach ball and you wonder how she can carry that load back to the hive.
But she does.
The bee with the huge pollen load below is one of Susan Cobey's bees. She's a UC Davis bee breeder-geneticist and manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility.
Claire Preston isn't a beekeeper but she's written an informative book titled Bee.
Published in 2006 by Reaktion Books,
Her 10 chapters tantalize us with such headings as "The Reason for Bees," "Biological Bee," "Kept Bee," "Political Bee," "Pious/Corrupt Bee," "Utile Bee," Aesthetic Bee," "Folkloric Bee," "Playful Bee," "Bee Movie" and the last, "Retired Bee."
But back to Bee.
Preston traces the history of bees (Apis mellifera) to southern Asia: bees probably originated in Afghanistan, she says. They were imported to South America in the 1530s and to what is now the United States (Virginia) in 1621. Native Americans called them "The Englishman's fly."
Preston calls the bee "Nature's workaholic" and borrowing a comment from Sue Monk Kidd's superb novel, The Secret Life of Bees, remarks: "You could not stop a bee from working if you tried."
"The most talented specialists (in the bee colony) are the workers," Preston writes. "They are the builders, brood-nurses, honey-makers, pollen-stampers, guards, porters, and foragers, and those tasks are related to their developmental age."
"All worker bees, in other words, take up these functions in succession as they mature, with the newest workers undertaking nursing, cleaning, building and repair in the nest, somewhat older workers making honey and standing guard, and the oldest bees foraging for pollen and nectar."
Frankly, bees are social insects in a highly social organization. They don't waver from their duties. The queen's job is to mate and then lay eggs for the rest of her life. The drone's job is to mate and then die. If the drones make it to autumn, the worker bees drive them from the hives "to die of starvation," Preston writes. "This exclusion of some hundreds of drones each autumn is one of the most remarkable sights in the animal kingdom. The workers are pitiless: drones do no work in the maintenance of the colony and cannot even feed themselves, so they cannot be allowed to overwinter and consume precious resources."
It's a sad time, to be sure. Bee breeder-geneticist Susan Cobey, manager of the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility at UC Davis, tells us she feels sorry for the drones. "They're cold and hungry and get pushed out of the hive."
And, as UC Davis apiculturist Eric Mussen says: "First the workers quit feeding them (drones) so they're light enough to push out."
But as winter ebbs away and spring beckons, soon each hive will be teeming with some 50,000 to 60,000 bees. And all those worker bees--which Preston calls "agricultural workers"--will be turning into Nature's workaholics.
They'll never be promoted to CEO, though.
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