If you have Mexican sunflowers (genus Tithonia) in your garden, you can expect a diversity of insects--and not just honey bees.
Lately we've been photographing all the insects that visit the Tithonia in our bee garden.
They include butterflies (including monarchs, Gulf Fritillaries, skippers and cabbage whites) bumble bees (Bombus vosnesenskii and Bombus fervides, formerly known as Bombus californicus), sweat bees, leafcutter bees, long-horned bees, praying mantids, honey bees, carpenter bees, and yes, flies (green bottle fly).
The Mexican sunflower, an annual in the sunflower family, Asteraceae, originates from Mexico and Central America. What's good about the Tithonia--besides its sizzling color and its ability to attract a diversity of insects--is that it's drought-tolerant. That's especially important as we thirsty Californians endure our worst-ever drought.
We grew our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) from seed, and it should bloom all summer. Already it's reaching NBA basketball-stature--topping seven feet in height.
We may have to set up a orchard ladder in our bee garden on our next photo shoot!
As we near the end of celebrating National Pollinator Week, June 16-22, look around and see all the insects foraging on reddish-orange flowers. And occasionally, you might see a reddish-orange insect like the showy Gulf Fritillary butterfly.
Orange, a color commonly associated with autumn, Halloween and Thanksgiving, is also a color that brightens many of our seasons and draws attention to special occasions, including Pollinator Week.
The reddish-orange Gulf Fritillary (Agraulis vanillae) spreads its wings on a purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea). A honey bee (Apis mellifera) and a sunflower bee (Melissodes agilis) forage on a blanket flower (Gallardia). Another bee, the leafcutting bee, Megachile fidelis, and a green bottle fly take a liking to a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia).
Pollinators come in all sizes, shapes, colors and species, from bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles, to flies.
Many folks throughout the country observe National Pollinator Week once a year, but some organizations, such as the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation, protect our pollinators and promote pollinator conservation every day.
On their website:
"Pollinators are essential to our environment. The ecological service they provide is necessary for the reproduction of over 85 percent of the world's flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world's crop species. The United States alone grows more than one hundred crops that either need or benefit from pollinators, and the economic value of these native pollinators is estimated at $3 billion per year in the U.S. Beyond agriculture, pollinators are keystone species in most terrestrial ecosystems. Fruits and seeds derived from insect pollination are a major part of the diet of approximately 25 percent of all birds, and of mammals ranging from red-backed voles to grizzly bears. In many places, the essential service of pollination is at risk from habitat loss, pesticide use, and introduced disease."
Indeed, pollinators pack a punch.
The feather-legged fly looks as if it were formed by a committee.
It's about the size of a house fly, but there the similarity ends.
Black head and thorax, hind legs fringed with a "comb" of short black hairs, and an abdomen that's the color of honey--bright orange honey.
It's one of those insects that prompts folks (including many entomologists) to ask: "What's THAT?"
We took a photo of "what's THAT?" yesterday on a Yolo County farm. Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, identified it as family Tachinidae, genus Tichopoda and species, probably T. pennipes.
It's a parasitoid. The female lays her eggs inside squash bugs, stink bugs and other agricultural pests.
It was probably introduced here from Europe. Squash growers and other farmers employ it as a biological control agent.
To us, it appears to be a double agent: distinctive and deadly.
Don't let that honey-colored abdomen fool you...
The first thing you notice about the fly is its brilliant red eyes.
They stand out like the proverbial elephant in the room.
But they are on a fly--a flesh fly.
Martin Hauser, an associate insect biosytematist in the Plant Pest Diagnostics Branch, California Department of Food and Agriculture, identified this little critter as a member of the Sarcophagidae family.
"Sarco" is Greek for flesh, and "phage" means eating.
Hauser, who earned his doctorate in entomology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is skilled at identifying insects. And he speaks German, French and English and studied Latin.
The red-eyed fly, which in its larval stage is associated with decaying flesh, sipped a little nectar and then paused momentarily to groom itself.
And pose for the camera.
What's a fly doing there?
Just soaking up the sun.
A fly that landed on one of the two colorfully painted beehive columns that grace the entrance to the Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven at the University of California, Davis, seemed like part of the scene.
The haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden planted next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, draws many a visitor--and many an insect. It is open year around.
We spotted this fly next to a painting of a honey bee in flight.
It knows a good spot when it sees one.