The Frit and the fly...or the butterfly and the fly...
That would be the Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) and the syrphid fly (family Syrphidae), aka flower fly or hover fly.
They meet on a beautiful autumn day on an equally beautiful Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia). The season is winding down.
"I was here first!" the Gulf Frit proclaims.
"I was here second!" the fly says.
The yellow-and-black striped fly, masquerading as a bee, is determined to sip some nectar. It edges closer and closer.
The newly eclosed butterfly simply wants to dry its wings before taking off.
The fly is more persistent. And more hungry.
The fly brushes the butterfly. The butterfly takes flight.
Score: Fly: 1; Butterfly, 0.
It's a dog-eat-dog world out there.
It's also a 'cat-eat-'cat world, that is, when a caterpillar eats another caterpillar. Or in this case, when larva eats larva.
We recently spotted this lady beetle larva eating a syrphid fly larva on our yellow rose bush, "Sparkle and Shine." Both eat aphids, and that's exactly what they were doing until the lady beetle larva attacked--and began eating--the syrphid larva.
These insects are beneficial. The lady beetle, as an adult, continues to consume those pesky aphids. The syrphid fly adult, aka hover fly or flower fly, is a pollinator.
The hungry larva reminded us of Eric Carle's award-winning children's picture book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, first published in 1969.
The synopsis (Wikipedia):
"One Sunday morning, a red-faced caterpillar hatches from an egg, and begins to look for some food. He eats through increasing quantities of fruit on the following five days, one apple on Monday, two pears on Tuesday, three plums on Wednesday, four strawberries on Thursday, and five oranges on Friday, and then, on Saturday, he has an enormous feast. By the end of Saturday, the inevitable happens and he is ill. After recovering from a stomach-ache, he returns to a more sensible diet by eating through a large green leaf before spinning a cocoon in which he remains for the following 2 weeks. Later, the 'big fat caterpillar' emerges as a beautiful butterfly with large, gorgeous, multi-coloured wings."
Well, in this case, the menu differed. Our lady beetle larva didn't eat an apple, pear, plum, strawberry or orange.
He/she ate its competitor.
Clean-shaven it's not. Yet it's a cut above.
For bees, syrphids and butterflies, the long-blooming Jupiter's Beard make the cut.
Centranthus ruber, also known as Jupiter's Beard, Red Valerian, Kiss-Me-Quick, and Keys to Heaven, is a popular drought-tolerant plant that attracts insects like a picnic draws people.
A native of the Mediterranean region, Jupiter's Beard grows wild in California and in several other states, including Arizona, Hawaii, Oregon and Utah.
Cozy up to a Jupiter's Beard, and you're likely to see foraging honey bees, native bees, syrphid flies and butterflies. (And assorted other critters like leafhoppers, lady beetles and spiders.)
The plant was one of the first residents of the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. The garden, installed in the fall of 2009 and operated by the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology, will be the site of a spring open house from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturday, April 9. The event, free and open to the public, will feature a noon tour, and other activities, including how to catch, observe and release bees; how to identify bees; and what to plant to attract bees and other pollinators. A bee observation hive is also planned where visitors can see the queen bee, workers and drones.
Then don't forget the campuswide UC Davis Picnic Day on Saturday, April 16. What's a picnic without bugs?
In addition to the scores of the other fun and educational activities on campus, remember the two B's: Briggs and Bohart. You can enjoy entomological events at Briggs Hall, located on Kleiber Hall Drive, and the Bohart Museum of Entomology, located on Crocker Lane.
Among the activities at Briggs: cockroach races, pollinator pavilion, a honey tasting, fly-tying, facepainting, Bug Doctor (The Doctor Is In!), maggot art, medical entomology exhibits, and displays of ants, mosquitoes, aquatic insects and forest insects. The UC Integrated Pest Management Program will give away lady beetles (aka ladybugs) to kids, and hand out information about pests and beneficial insects.
At the Bohart Museum, home of nearly eight million insect specimens, you can get up close and personal with the live "petting zoo," including the Madagascar hissing cockroaches, walking sticks and a rose-haired tarantula named "Peaches." In keeping with the UC Davis Picnic Day's overall theme, "Cultivating Our Authenticity," the Bohart theme is "Real Insects and Their Mimics." Think bees. Think flies. Think about how to tell the difference. Syrphids, especially drone flies, are commonly mistaken for honey bees. Not all floral visitors are bees...
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).
How many times have you encountered a "honey bee" on the Internet, in a book, magazine, newspaper or other publication, and found a syrphid fly misidentified as a honey bee?
It's truly amazing how often syrphid flies are mistaken for honey bees.
Take the Eristalis tenax, a European hover fly quite established in the United States.
And quite "established" as a honey bee.
It's a syprhid, in the family Syrphidae; in the subfamily, Eristalinee; in the tribe Eristalini; in the subtribe Eristalina; and in the genus, Eristalis.
It's typically called a drone fly (it's about the size of a male honey bee or drone) but some folks also call it a hover fly, a flower fly or a syprhid.
No matter what you call it, it's a fly, not a bee.
Now to the "rats" part.
Their larva is known as a rat-tailed maggot. Its long tail-like structure resembles that of a rat or a mouse. Sometimes it looks like a corn dog with a tail. Or a butterscotch-colored lollipop with a tail.
Rat-tailed maggots live in such habitats as sewers, manure pile pools, drainage ditches and other badly polluted areas. Which is probably why you don't see them. (And if you did, you'd know it wasn't a corn dog with a tail.)
But in the adult stage, they're pollinators. They go where the honey bees go.
You'll find the adult drone flies nectaring on such flowers as lavender, catmint, daisies, sunflowers and yarrow, and hear people exclaiming "Look at the bees!"
I'm waiting for someone to say "They used to be rat-tailed maggots."