So you're walking along Doran Regional Park Beach in Sonoma County on Tuesday, Oct. 16 and thinking about the pollinators in your back yard. (Don't we all?)
And then: what a delight to see. Apis mellifera (honey bees) and Eristalis tenax, syrphid flies (better known as a "drone flies") nectaring on the tiny blossoms of a sea rocket plant (genus Cakile).
This particular plant species? The European sea rocket, Cakile maritima, a succulent annual that's a member of the mustard family. It grows in clumps or mounds on sandy beaches and bluffs along the coastlines of North Africa, western Asia, and North America. It boasts a long, slender and stout taproot.
You've probably seen it. But you may not have noticed the pollinators.
"Their leaves are fleshy," is how Wikipedia describes the plant. "Flowers are typically pale mauve to white, with petals about 1 cm in length. Each fruit has two sections, one that remains attached to the adult, and the other which that falls off for dispersal by wind or water."
At Doran Beach, two species of sea rocket (C. maritima or European sea rocket, and C. edentula or American sea rocket) bloom from spring through summer--and sometimes in early fall.
Bees at the beach? Floating fruit?
And flies (syrphids), too.
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).
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.
Hover flies do know how to hover.
Like a helicopter with spinning blades, the hover fly lingers seemingly motionless in mid-air over a flower before zeroing down to feed on the nectar.
Sometimes they’re called flower flies. Sometimes syprhids. They’re from the family Syrphidae and mimic the black-and-yellow coloring of wasps or bees. The coloring protects them from predators. Leave me alone! Let me bee!
Last Sunday our rock purslane (Calandrinia grandiflora) attracted its share of honey bees and hover flies.
In fact, so popular was the rock purslane (which we purchased from Ray and Maria Lopez of El Rancho Nursery and Landscaping,
Instead I focused my macro lens, shot away, and then, for fun, altered the image in Photoshop with “poster edges.”
For a brief period, the hover fly became my poster child.