Friday, May 23, 2014

Syrphid Flies

Syrphid Fly: also known as a Flower or Hover Fly. 

      Syrphid Flies are a family of 6,000 or so flies in the Order Diptera. They are best known for being bee mimics. By looking like bees or wasps, many predators avoid them thinking they might get stung, although actually they are harmless and incapable of stinging. They also mimic bees in being important pollinators of flowers as well. This is why they are sometimes also called Flower Flies and Hover Flies (for hovering around flowers). A closer look however reveals they have only 2 wings (not the 4 of bees/wasps), very short antennae, and huge eyes, unlike the long antennae and smaller eyes of bees/wasps.

Syrphid Fly maggot (larva)

      Although I had often noticed Syrphid Flies around flowers, I really got acquainted with them one day when I was working the gardens at a nature center and noticed a slug-like creature among a large congregation of aphids. The way it ate its prey was fascinating: it would rip an aphid off the plant, hold it over its head and eat it alive. The whole time the aphid would be kicking its feet frantically in the air while being devoured.

A Syrphid Fly maggot eating an aphid

     Being curious, I raised the creature, amazed at the huge amount of aphids it consumed each day. Soon it pupated and what emerged was a beautiful Syrphid Fly. I did some research and now realize how valuable they can be in a garden. Not only are Syrphid Flies often considered the second best pollinators in the world after bees, but many species are also valuable as biological controls. By feasting on many insect pests such as aphids (up to 400 of them before changing into an adult), they perform yet another valuable function for us in our yards and gardens. They are beneficial in both ways, and are fascinating mimics as well, being wonderful additions to our gardens and yards.

A Syrphid Fly laying eggs among aphids on a Cupplant

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