Is it a Bee or a Fly?

This winged creature appreciated the sunflowers in the garden

In North America, the word “fly” might bring to mind the peskiness of the house fly, the impressive size of the horse fly, or the bite of the deer fly. And to many of us, the answer to the question: Can you distinguish between flies and bees? would be, of course.

But there is an entire family of flies, Syrphidae, who make it their business to mimic bees and wasps. And they are pretty darn good at it. In my early days of photographing insects (not that long ago) I often thought I was taking pictures of a very small bee or wasp. But when I got inside and took a look at the enlarged photos on my laptop, I realized here was something distinctly not a bee or wasp. With the help of bugguide.net, I’ve been making progress in learning about the flies I share my world with. They are a fascinating addition to my life: sometimes comical looking, often quite beautiful.  

Eristalis trasversa – the Transverse Flower Fly, another view

One characteristic of flies is that they have one pair of wings. Bees and wasps have 2 pairs. Also, although we call several insects by the name ‘fly,’ with real flies (Order Diptera), the word ‘fly’ is a separate word. Crane Flies and March Flies are flies, but butterflies and dragonflies are not. Not all flies are called flies – mosquitos and midges are flies, too.

I recently discovered a very good resource with a side-by-side comparison of flies and the bees and wasps they mimic: All About Hoverflies. I’m pretty sure that based on the information on this webpage, I can identify the fly in my photo as a male. Males have bigger eyes that come close together at the top of the head.

When I started taking photos of bugs and insects, I would not have guessed that flies would become a favorite, or that I’d get pretty geeked out about being able to tell the males from the females.

3 Stages of the Beauty of the Giant Leopard Moth

In 2015 I was living 15 miles out of town, on three acres with fields and woods on either side and woods across the street. Many of the photos I’ve posted to Bugguide.net were taken there. When we moved in 2018 to a village rental, I wondered how many insects I’d see. As it turned out, not many. The residential use of pesticides and clearing of any wild shrubby areas had done their work. Even when clover bloomed all over the lawns of the nearby college campus, there were hardly any bees foraging the nectar.

When I discovered the emerging Giant Leopard moth, Hypercompe scribonia, on a plant I’d moved indoors, it was a double pleasure – it is rare enough to witness important moments in an insect’s life, and it would especially rare in my new surroundings.

Here’s what the moth looked like when I first saw it –

Adult emerging
Giant Leopard Moth Adult emerging

Twenty minutes later the transformation was complete. These two photos are now 2 of a set of 3. I took the caterpillar’s photo on October 24, 2015. When the caterpillar is at its full length, it is a handsome black, when it curls into its protective position, the red intersegmental rings are on display.

The Giant Leopard Moth caterpillar
Giant Leopard moth caterpillar

Now we own a home in the village, and I’ll have a chance to try to establish a small oasis for insects here in our yard. In the swirl of human activity that glimmers with foolishness and sorrow, trying to take care of the pollinators and other insects in the face of all that is stacked against them seems a reasonable task. It is one that will remind me over and over that I, too, am an animal; that I have a share in their fate as surely as they have a share in mine.

The Pleasure of Photographing bugs and insects

I love photographing insects and spiders and discovering details I didn’t see until I opened the photographs on my computer – the lovely striped abdomen of the Drone Fly; the butterscotch color of the Deer Fly; the slim white line that etches the outline of Sehirus cinctus, the White-margined Burrower Beetle.

drone-fly.jpg  deer-fly.jpg      white-margined-burrower-beetle.jpg

I love the sense of wonder when I realize that what I have seen and photographed is a grasshopper laying eggs, or a wasp with her long, slender ovipositor slid into a blossom’s bosom.

wasp ovitpositing

I love discovering a crab spider on the yellow petal on which I saw and photographed a Jagged Ambush Bug: in successive frames they edge closer, then edge away.

jagged-ambush-and-crab-spider-eudora-watson.jpg

I love the names of insects – the scientific names I would stumble over if I tried to say them aloud, but which somersault on my mind’s tongue with joy: Agelenopsis, Araneus trifolium, Neoscona Arabesque, Ellychnia corrusca, Reduvius personatus,  Lygaeus kalmia, Podisus placidus, Stiretrus anchorago, Herpyllus ecclesiasticus. predatory stink bug e watson

And the common names: Grass spider, Shamrock and Arabesque Orbweavers, Winter Firefly, Small Milkweed Bug, Masked Hunter, Predatory Stink Bug, Anchor Stink Bug, Eastern Parson Spider.

14 spotted ladybug e watsonI love the practicality of the names that describe their appearance: Three-lined Potato Beetle, Tortoise Beetle, Fourteen-spotted Lady, Thinlegged Wolf Spider, White Admiral, Painted Lady, Pearly-eye, Zebra Caterpillar Moth, Twice-stabbed Stink Bug.

And I love the names that describe Long bodied cellar spidertheir behaviors: Tumbling Flower Beetle, Jumping Spider, Fungus-eating Lady, Cobweb Spider, Rose Chafer, Oil Blister Beetle, Sharpshooter. And the names that do both: Milkweed Longhorns, Dot-tailed Whiteface Skimmer, Four-spotted Skimmer, Longbodied Cellar Spider.

hummingbird moth_ e watson

And I love this world of wonders in which the Lady Bug is not a bug but a beetle; in which the nymph of the Masked Hunter covers itself in dust and lint and patrols our sheets and pillows for bedbugs; in which the hummingbird is,  in fact, a moth.

What does Spring look like?

When I signed up in January to take two online writing classes back-to-back, 10 weeks straight of weekly reading and writing deadlines, I thought, “This will take me right through Winter and into Spring!” The last due date was yesterday, and here’s this morning’s view of the path through the backfield. Blog_March 26 2018 Snowy walk

That black dog in the first photo is Gudgeon. He doesn’t much like the very cold temperatures, but this version of snow is a favorite. It has softened during the sunny days, then firmed up over night: he can walk on top of it and flop for a good back rub.

DSC_0058DSC_0064DSC_0063DSC_0079

Then he’s ready for a walk . . .

dsc_0090.jpg

 

The Meadow

DSC_1031The quarry man bought the old house and its acreage, scraped the topsoil off the meadow, and sold off the house with two acres of the meadow and its partial border of trees and shrub. In the house, a bathroom went in, and in a child’s room, a fat rainbow – floor to ceiling to floor – was sketched out and painted.

For thirty years, owners kept the meadow mowed. Between mowings, grasses grew, and golden rod, oyster plants, milkweed, and asters. Each late fall the meadow’s summer growth lay itself down, and in that flattened landscape the old disc harrow, stranded in its long-gone farmer’s field, reappeared.

Twenty years ago the clothes line, built with sturdy wooden posts and cross beams, stood on the far side of the cedar tree. Now its northern post is engulfed in branches. The outhouse, still visible in its pile of moldered lumber when I arrived, has long since joined the remains of the wildflowers that grew up between the boards, fell over, and decomposed. It is almost twelve years since the meadow was cut, and it is only in the last two that wild cherry bushes have spread from individuals to patches of isolated mini-woodlands that shelter bird and spider nurseries.

Each winter I cover the rain barrels and shovel the long driveway; each spring I listen for the voice of the wood frog and try to avoid the black flies’ bite. Every other summer or so I get to the task of clearing the meadow, cutting all the box elders’ sprouts to the ground. In the fall I greet the disc harrow and Orion on their return to my view, and wonder which Turkey Vulture sighting will be my last of the year.

Eventually, I will leave this place. The meadow will give way to box elder trees, or not. As I sleep beneath the child’s rainbow, my window open to the night, what is sure for me is the Little Dipper, pinned at its tail by the North Star, circling overhead. What is almost as sure is the topsoil, building. Slowly, slowly.

 

Goldenrod Feast

DSC_0374 painted lady not cropped

My backfield takes on a yellow hue when the Goldenrod comes into bloom, and having learned to blame the correct pollen  – ragweed – for my hay fever, I am unreserved in my welcome of it. Many others are unreserved as well. The yellow that catches my eye catches the attention of many species, and while I do the Goldenrod the good of simply leaving it alone, others do it the good of flying in for a meal and flying out with pollen they’ll spread to other Goldenrod plants.

On a sunny September day, Painted Lady Butterflies, bees, and wasps showed up to feast on the golden plumes.

Farewell

The geese have been restive. All summer I’ve see them occasionally. They head from the swamp next door to the wetlands across the street and beyond the woods. Or they cross in the other direction, over the back field to settle somewhere past those woods. On the last few mornings I’ve noted them more often flying low over the house in pairs or threes. They’ve remained casual in their few calls and in their seemingly random direction of flight. From one day to the next there was no change in urgency, no sense of real departure. Yesterday, on the last of a run of days in the 80s – a heat wave even by a summer measure here – they crossed the sky high up, in formation.

Geese formationThey have shifted into travelers; their calls have become what they become each fall for those they leave behind – the final, genuine, farewell to late summer, the earliest of the signs that will, in sum, lead us to what we will slowly, slowly come to accept: fall is taking its place in the rotation of seasons; winter will follow.

Of Raspberries and Bees

DSC_0563 Bee raspberry nice for web

These hot September days are ripening the fall-bearing raspberries. Their canes arch and nod, and many clusters of fruit are partially hidden by leaves. When I’m out picking berries, I have often held a cane at its tip to lift it up for a look underneath – checking for fruit and for bees that might be feeding there. The berry patch has been especially active with bees these sunny days, and I’ve been picking raspberries early in the morning to keep out of the bees’ way.

Today I got a late start: the sun was well up, and the bees were in full swing of feeding. I moved slowly as I picked, and often stopped to photograph the insects I saw. That unhurriedness gave me time to observe where the bees actually do settle on the plants. I learned that our foraging territories don’t overlap at all – they are after a far different harvest. I am looking for the ripest raspberries, they are only interested in the earliest stages of that fruit, just when the blossom has started to turn in on itself in preparation of creating a berry. In the company of these bees, a few hours later in the day makes no difference: there is nothing to fear.

Early morning raspberry harvest

I lifted a nodding cane of raspberry to check for fruit, and found as well a crab spider crouched there, its light-green, almost translucent coloring a perfect complement to the red of the berries. The spider drew back into the berry, and I let the cane nod back down.

taken october 4 50 degrees 076spider eyes

Last year, to the week, I didn’t see the spider until I had the fruit inside. I took her photograph and released her back into the berry patch.

Dahlias’ Gift

DSC_0301At a local fund-raising event this summer, people lined up with their dogs in the parking lot outside the sports arena for a communal walk. Inside the arena, local craft folks and fund-raising tables were set up. From one long table of plants I selected three dahlia tubers from their cardboard box. They were, as is the way of dahlias, contorted beings that held no outwardly sign of what will come. Planted, the dahlias grew to over five feet in height. There, they unfurled blossom upon blossom. I will return their gift and dig them up to shelter them for another season.