When a house is a home...
Take the case of a syrphid fly, aka hover fly or flower fly. It's a cold and windy day, and it's tucked in the folds of a rock purslane, Calandrinia grandiflora, in Vacaville, Calif.
It's sipping nectar, and rotating its colorful little body to gather more nectar and glean more sun.
The syrphid fly is often mistaken for a honey bee. Both are pollinators.
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.
Last year Joanna Klein posted an interactive feature in the New York Times, wondering how we can save the bees if we don't recognize them. She asked "Can You Pick the Bees Out of This Insect Lineup?" and posted an image of bees and wanna-be bees.
Find the flies.
And then access a PDF on flower flies on the UC Agriculture and Natural Resources website to learn more about them. Authored by lead author/entomologist Robert Bugg, it's titled "Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids in Vegetable Crops."/span>
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.
A fly, oh, my!
On the approval scale, they don't rank nearly as high as honey bees, but some are often mistaken for them.
Take the Eristalis stipator, which belongs to the family Syrphidae, the hover flies.
It's about the same size as a honey bee and it's a pollinator.
We recently spotted this one--a female Eristalis stipator, as identified by senior insect biosystematist Martin Hauser of the California Department of Food and Agriculture--nectaring on tropical milkweed, Asclepias curassavica. The colors are striking--both the colors of the fly and the flowers. It's a striped fly, with black and white bands, one superimposed gold band, and buff-colored hairs piled on the thorax. And the showy flower, aka "blood flower," is red-orange with a yellow hood.
Eristalis is a large genus of approximately 99 species. The Eristalis stipator has no common name, so we just call it Eristalis stipator.
Or a fly.
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...