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Posts Tagged ‘Bombylius major’

This insect is fuzzy like a bee and acts as a pollinator as it sips nectar, but it is not a bee, it is a fly, a Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major). Are you confused yet? Unlike bees, bee flies have only two wings instead of four, large eyes, skinny long legs and very short antennae. Bee flies also seem hyperactive, hovering in midair rather than landing as they suck up the nectar with a really long proboscis and thereby avoiding potential predators like crab spiders.

When I did a little research, though, I learned that bee flies have a dark side. According to an article entitled “A Pollinator With a Bad Reputation” by Beatriz Moisset, “The reason why it diligently hovers over bare ground early in the spring is that it is looking for bee nests, probably the same ones with which they compete for nectar. The bees dig tunnels and lay their eggs at their bottoms after collecting enough pollen to feed the larvae. This requires numerous trips, thus the bee fly takes advantage of the mother’s absence and lays its eggs in such nests. Making use of its flying prowess, it does not even need to land but it flicks its abdomen while hovering over the open burrow, letting one egg fall in or near it. The fly larva finds its way to the chamber where the mother bee has laid the provisions and the egg and proceeds to feed on the stored pollen. Afterwards it devours the bee larvae; when it is fully grown, it pupates and stays inside the nest until next spring.”

I was inspired to post this image by a recent posting by Pete Hillman entitled “Dark-edged Bee Fly” that featured a similar bee fly. In my zeal to post photos of all of the ephemeral wildflowers I had seen this spring, like the Virginia Spring Beauties in this photo, I had forgotten about this bee fly.

You may notice that the bee fly’s wings are blurred in this— image and assume that I was shooting with a slow shutter speed. I checked the EXIF data for the shot and found that the shutter speed was 1/2500 second—I think that it had consumed as much coffee as I had that late March morning. I recommend that you click on this image to see all of the amazing details of this fascinating insect, the Greater Bee Fly.


Greater Bee Fly

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

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Is it a bee? Is it a fly? It’s a Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major). What?

This bee fly has to be one of the strangest insects that I have ever seen—it looks like Doctor Frankenstein pieced together an insect from the parts of other insects. Its fuzzy body looks like that of a bee and it has a similar proboscis, though the bee fly’s proboscis seems to be outrageously long. Its long, spindly legs, however, are not bee-like and remind me of certain types of flies. The patterned wings and the way that it hovers are reminiscent of a hummingbird moth, though the bee fly is considerably smaller.

The bee fly is considered to be a bee mimic. Like a bee, it helps pollinate plants when gathering nectar.

I encountered this strange insect when I was examining the little flowers of some allium plants in the garden of my neighbor and fellow photographer and blogger Cindy Dyer. She always has interesting flowers to photograph and I have found an amazing assortment of insects in the garden too.

Greater Bee Fly on allium plant

Greater Bee Fly on allium plant

 

Head-on look at a bee fly

Head-on look at a bee fly

Bee Fly on allium with trellis in background

Bee Fly on allium with trellis in background

© Michael Q. Powell. All rights reserved.

 

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