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Greater bee fly: Bombylius major

Bee fly"I've started seeing a different kind of bee lately," Mark said as April rolled in.  "It's a bit smaller than a honeybee and...simpler."

I knew exactly what he was talking about since I'd noticed the same insect hovering in mid-air as I worked around the yard.  It looked like a child's drawing of a bee --- just one big hunk of fluff with wings.  But it wasn't a bee.

The Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major) is a fly that mimics a bee both in appearance and in behavior.  Once our peach flowers opened up, about a tenth of the pollinators drawn to the abundance of nectar and pollen were bee flies.  The flies are easy to distinguish from true bees since they have a habit of hovering, hummingbird-like, in front of flowers, or landing and showing off their extra long legs.

Like many garden insects, bee flies aren't really good or bad.  They're a great pollinator, but the flies also parasitize solitary bees and wasps, thus cutting down on the population of other pollinators and predators.  Unlike other bee mimics that try to piggy-back on predators' aversion to stinging insects, bee flies probably mimic bees so that they can get close to the bees' burrows and fling their eggs inside.  When the bee fly eggs hatch out, the larval flies feed on the larval bees, killing the bees in the process.  Despite the death toll, I consider the presence of bee flies a good sign since it signals a healthy and varied insect population.  It's best not to put all of your pollinator eggs in one basket.



This post is part of our Native Pollinators lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:





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