Bombylius bee flies and their sneaky ways

Hey readers – Hope you are doing well during these self- or government-imposed sheltering-in-place times. We are hanging in there! I’ve tried to write a few blog posts to help me (and you) cope with all that’s going on with this COVID-19 pandemic, but after days of writing and not producing anything that felt useful or compelling, I stopped trying. Then, during the past 72 hours, I had three separate encounters with an intriguing species of critter.

When something I’ve never paid much mind to before suddenly shows up three times in three days in different locations and makes itself PRESENT (a present??) to me, well… I know I need to pay ATTENTION! So, here’s a story about a cool little critter to get your mind off the global pandemic for a couple of minutes…

Bee fly – front view with those big fly eyes and long legs

First encounter: I was walking in a friend’s wild yarden when a “bee” flew by, dancing around some flowers. Upon closer inspection, my friend identified it as a bee fly, not a bee. A small, fuzzy-bodied, shiny-winged creature hovering above flowers and imitating a little bumblebee, but with only two wings (a characteristic of flies) and real short antennae. Always moving, changing direction so fast, never truly landing on a flower, but always managing to get some nectar (they don’t eat the pollen).

Second encounter: The next day I was creeping through a not-official-trail right along a creek edge when I spotted movement near my foot. I thought it was a bumblebee that had been injured. It didn’t really fly, but was sort of fly-hopping from one leaf to the next right on the ground, like it was tired from a long days work. I got down on my hands and knees and looked closer, only to discover it was yet another bee fly, with its proboscis clearly showing.

Bee fly with his proboscis showing and pollen on his “fuzz”

Third encounter: Today, amid the glorious bed of the blooming “Green and Golds” my sweet husband planted for my mom last year, another bee fly was flitting from flower to flower, doing its thing and pollinating along the way.

Bee fly on a green and gold flower (love those anthers)

So, I decided to do a little research on these guys and come to find out some species of bee flies have a real sneaky side to their behavior. One of the reasons you see them hovering right above the ground in early spring is because they are looking for the holes of real bees. These real bees have dug a hole, laid an egg, and collected pollen to leave in the nest for the hatchling to feed on when it hatches. But, when the bee fly discovers a nest hole, they watch and wait for the female bee to leave to get more pollen and they sneak right in there and lay their own eggs. The bee fly eggs then hatch and eats the pollen brought by the real bee momma and then eats the bee’s young larvae. Such is the life of the bee fly!

What cool critters did you see on your stay-home, stay-healthy walk today??

2 comments

  1. We have seen a few of those around our place as well. I never knew anything about them until now, and that is some really interesting stuff. I need to make a list of the things we see and remember to research them later.

    My daughter has taken to bird watching, so much that I bought her a bird book on the birds of the Eastern US.
    We throw some bird seed out in the early morning and keep an eye out on what stops by during the day. She is keeping track of how many different birds come to the yard and how many of each kind seem to stop by daily. She is noticing their different behaviors, and their different calls. We have also noticed an increase in visits from squirrels as well.

    The kids saw, caught and then released into our garden, a blue tailed skink. That made them beyond happy, as they haven’t seen one in a while, and they got to teach the neighbor’s nephew about skinks.

    • That’s wonderful. If your birding daughter wants to contribute to a cool citizen science project, she can participate in Project Feederwatch. Look it up. I think it’s sponsored by Cornell University. Thanks for sharing. Keep having fun with your kids and nature!

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