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.

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.

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.