If there's one thing that entomologists hate, it's journalists who mistake a fly for a bee.
To entomologists, it's like mistaking a referee for a football player (well, they are on the same playing field) or a model airplane for a Lear jet (well, they do share the same sky) or a Volkswagen for a Ferrari (well, they do share the same road).
No. No. No.
Fact is, some journalists are so busy meeting deadlines that they don't stop and smell the flowers--or see what's foraging on them.
It's not just the news media. Lately we've been seeing dozens of drone flies (Eristalis tenax) masquerading as honey bees (Apis mellifera) in stock photo catalogs, on Facebook and Flickr pages, and on honey bee websites. Last week an environmental friendly organization attacked a pesticide company for killing bees but posted a photo of a fly instead of a bee on its website. Another faux pas: a fly showed up on the cover of the celebrated book, Bees of the World.
Gee, if it visits flowers, it must be a bee, right? Wrong. Not all floral visitors are bees.
If it's a pollinator, it must be a bee, right? Wrong. Flies can be pollinators, too.
If it visits flowers, pollinates flowers, and is about the size of a honey bee, it's a honey bee, right? Wrong. Those three descriptions fit drone flies, too.
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.
Bottom line: if you're not sure if it's a fly or a bee, contact an entomologist near you.
Think of them as "the good guys" and "the good girls."
Insects such as lacewings, lady beetles and flower flies.
We're delighted to see that the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation has just published a 250-page book on "Farming with Native Beneficial Insects."
The book advocates the use of beneficial insects to prey upon crop pests, thus "reducing or eliminating the use of pesticides," say co-authors Eric Lee-Mäder, Jennifer Hopwood, Mace Vaughan, Scott Hoffman Black, and Lora Morandin.
"This comprehensive guide describes how to recognize these insects and their habitat, and how to evaluate, design, and improve habitat for them," they write. They offer specific solutions, including native plant field borders, mass insectary plantings, hedgerows, cover crops, buffer strips, beetle banks, and brush piles.
The much-acclaimed book, available for purchase on the Xerces website, is drawing well deserved accolades, including this one from Claire Kremen, professor and co-director of the Berkeley Food Institute, University of California, Berkeley:
“If you are a grower or a backyard gardener, this is a ‘must have.' Readable and filled with gorgeous photos and handy charts, this book provides reams of information about how to get the upper hand on your pest issues with reduced or no pesticide use.”
Xerces officials say the release of Farming with Native Beneficial Insects coincides with its launch of a new nationwide workshop series on natural pest control: the Conservation Biological Control Short Course. The course, to begin in the West and Midwest, "provides farmers, crop consultants, and government farm agency staff with a comprehensive, hands-on training in the natural pest management strategies described in the book. A similar workshop model previously offered by Xerces trained tens of thousands of people in farm communities across the U.S. to conserve bees and restore pollinator habitat, and helped facilitate the restoration of more than 100,000 acres of wildflower habitat for bees."
Speaking of "the good guys" and "the good girls," be sure to read the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management Project's website on beneficial insects and natural enemies. The natural enemies include assassin bugs, bigeyed bugs, brown lacewings, convergent lady beetles, damsel bugs, dustywings, syrphid flies and twicestabbed lady beetles.
What is Integrated Pest Management (IPM)? "Integrated pest management uses environmentally sound, yet effective, ways to keep pests from annoying you or damaging plants. IPM programs usually combine several pest control methods for long-term prevention and management of pest problems without harming you, your family, or the environment. Successful IPM begins with correct identification of the pest. Only then can you select the appropriate IPM methods and materials."
UC IPM points out:
- Many pests can be managed without the use of pesticides.
- Use pesticides only if nonchemical controls are ineffective and pests are reaching intolerable levels.
- Use pesticides in combination with the methods described above.
- Choose pesticides carefully. Use the least toxic, most effective material to protect human health and the environment.
- Examples of least toxic insecticides include:
- Oils; and
- Microbials such as Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) and spinosad.
The more we learn about pests and the natural enemies of pests, the oft-heard quote, "Keep your friends close and your enemies closer" rings quite true. The more we learn about our enemies, the less likely they will be able to harm us.
Butterflies, honey bees and hover flies can't get enough of red buckwheat.
Tight clusters of pink blossoms, coupled with gray-green foliage, grace red buckwheat (Eriogonum grande rubescens), a California native.
It's good for the insects and good for the gardener. It's drought-tolerant.
We planted red buckwheat in our bee friendly yard several weeks ago, and among the first to find it were hover flies, aka flower flies.
Hover flies (family Syrphidae) hover over flowers like a sightseeing helicopter. Then they dip down and sip the nectar.
They're often mistaken for honey bees. Many an editor has published a photo of a "honey bee" that was in reality, a hover fly.
California buckwheat is one of the attractions in the newly planted Häagen-Dazs Honey Bee Haven, a half-acre bee friendly garden next to the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road, UC Davis. It is serving as a year-around food source for bees and an educational opportunity for humans. A public celebration will take place next June.
Look for the buckwheat!
Cosmos flowers are somewhat like Libras. They balance.
In fact, the word, "cosmos," means "harmony" or "ordered universe" in Greek.
Plant cosmos and you'll soon be enjoying colorful flowers that belong to the Asteraceae family, which also includes sunflowers, daisies and asters. Plant a variety of colors--white, pink, orange, yellow and scarlet--and you'll see why the Spanish missions in Mexico favored cosmos.
They're beautiful and easy to grow.
An added benefit: they attract syrphids, also known as flower flies and hover flies.
Plant cosmos. Attract syrphids. Capture an image of a syrphid on a cosmos.
Caught on the cosmos.
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.)