Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Last Hurrah in the Aromatic Aster

On the 15th of November, about 5 weeks ago, I took a series of photos of the insects nectaring at the last of the aromatic aster blooms.  We'd already had a frost or two and the tomato plants had become black mush weeks before, but the aromatic asters just kept valiently going on, day after day after day.  I'm sure that most of these insects have since descended into their final cold sleep, but it seemed like a good time to share one of the last warm days of 2013 on my blog....

What do the following insects have in common with each other, besides the plant they are nectaring on and the fact that they were still alive on November 15th?

Insect #1

Insect #2

Insect #3

Insect #4

Insect #5

Guesses, anyone?  That's right! The answer is that, despite the striped black and yellow camouflage that some of these guys are wearing, all five of these insects are flies and they are all native pollinators!  What's the tell?  The give-away to their true identity is their antennae and the single pair of wings.  Flies have short, stubby antennae, while bee antennae are longish and usually have a single bend near the forehead.  Flies have a single pair of wings, while bees have two pairs, often "stitched" together by tiny hooks to look like one pair, though.

Why do several of these flies look like bees or wasps?  The better to fool predators and stay uneaten, of course!  Humans aren't the only animals that are wary of getting stung.

Of course there were some true bees nectaring on the asters as well.

There was this classic honeybee...which is NOT native, by the way, although it does function as a pollinator.

And I saw this little beauty, a metallic green solitary bee, brightening up the day for me.  The tiny little shadows of these insects make me feel very tender towards them, for some reason - and you can see the long antennae that helps identify this animal as a bee particularly well in its shadow, too.

As I was snooping into the lives of these 6-legged creatures, I was privileged to see an interesting standoff occur:  this tachinid fly landed right in front of the wheel bug, who was obviously interested and had her beak out as if ready to pounce.

I watched for several minutes, though, and the wheelbug never did actually attack the fly. 

Eventually the fly seemed to get bored and flew away.  Perhaps the wheelbug had already laid her full quota of eggs, was tired, and was just too lazy to go to all the effort of catching and eating even one more insect....

Each year there is only one generation of wheelbugs, fierce predators from the moment they hatch, so perhaps this old lady was getting ready to peacefully let go, her role in the wheelbug lifecycle now complete.

One other insect caught my eye that day, although this one was no longer alive.  This little bee, still festooned with full pollen baskets, had the ill fortune to become a spider's meal.

I never did see the spider, but the little bee's gaudy corpse twisted sadly in the breeze.

The variety of insects I see in my yard and gardens never ceases to amaze me.  What's especially fascinating is how many of them are predators.  Or beneficials, for that matter.  I see major life dramas enacted daily, or come upon the remains of tragedies after they've occurred.  These days, I can't imagine gardening without paying attention to the insect life with which I share my garden.  It's opened up a whole new world to me.


Anonymous said...

Even though I know the general differences between flies and bees, I still sometimes have trouble telling which one a particular insect is because there's so much variation.

Gardener on Sherlock Street said...

You continue to amaze me with your patience capture these amazing photos of the insects. Those are some pretty looking flies.

Gaia Gardener: said...

Portraits, often I have to wait until I look at my photos to be sure which I'm looking at - and then I can only tell if I can see the antennae or wings well. The variation (and the mimicry) is amazing.

GoSS, Thanks for the compliment! My darling husband gave me a great lens for Christmas last year which has really helped me capture insect photos. Some of the flies are as pretty as the bees!

sweetbay said...

I've noticed a wealth of pollinators on the late asters too: wasps, bees, flies, butterflies, moths, you name it! I very much enjoyed this post.