My next stop on my walkabout was at a group of flowers that has become my favorite photographic site recently: the little clump of Echinacea purpurea in my front garden bed. I think I have 3 plants in this clump, none of them very big yet, but I only planted 2 of them. The third has come up from seed. I love volunteers!
Right now, this is one of the plants that is looking the best in my gardens, so it's both photogenic and attracting most of the pollinators. Since the blooms are relatively tall (maybe 30"), I also don't have to bend down very much to get good closeups, which makes my photographic sessions much easier on my knees and back!
This bloom had two interesting visitors: a syrphid fly and a yellow-spotted buprestid beetle (Acmaeodera sp.). This is the first year I've had so many of these buprestid beetles around - they are probably hatching out from all the dead wood which has resulted from several years of heat and drought.
I've put two very similar photos in here, one next to the other, because they each show something just a little different about this fly. In the top photo, the abdomen and a little cream colored body part just behind the wings show up more clearly. That little cream colored "lollipop on a stick" is actually called a haltere and it is the remnant of a fly's 2nd pair of wings. It's used to help maintain equilibrium as the insect flies. The fact that flies only have one pair of wings instead of the more normal two pairs of wings is a defining characteristic of this group of insects, and it separates them from similar looking wasps or bees.
In the bottom photo, the wing venation, thorax and head are a little more in focus. Many insect species are separated out from each other on the basis of wing venation, so having a photograph that shows the venation clearly is really nice. Looking at the head, we can see two other "fly" characteristics that are typical: the large eyes that take up a significant portion of the head, and the short, paddle-like antennae. The eyes of bees and wasps are usually proportionally much smaller than fly eyes and their antennae are usually longer, more linear, and with a single bend, not paddle-like at all.
(Have I said yet how much I'm enjoying my new macro lens? If not, let me mention it here - for the record. It was a wonderful Christmas present from my dear husband! I'm still learning how to use it appropriately, which may take quite a while since I'm such a technophobe.)
Getting back to business, syrphid flies are great aphid predators in their larval stage, so it's always nice to see them nectaring at my flowers. Where the parents nectar, I figure the larvae will be found nearby. I must say, though, that I've never actually found a syrphid fly larva in person; maybe that's just because I haven't looked hard enough. Knowing that I have a lot of insect predators in the yard, I don't waste a lot of time looking for aphids, so I'm not likely to see the things that are eating them.
This particular syphrid fly is a species called the common oblique syrphid fly, Allograpta obliqua...I think. Bug Guide is a wonderful site!
Well, that's enough for this stop. I'll close this post out and get ready to take you to the next stop on our walkabout.....