A Flower for Every Fly

Butterflies, cucumber beetles, the occasional dragonfly, and various species of native bees still roam our fields and marshes, accompanied by a few industrious spiders and entirely too many mosquitoes.

What seem to have disappeared in recent weeks are the syrphid flies (Syrphidae, spp.). Also known as hover flies or flower flies, the tiny, fast-flying creatures often are found feeding on the nectar and pollen of flowers. Unlike many insects we commonly call flies, the hoverfly belongs to the order Diptera, or true flies; the name ‘Diptera’ refers to the fact that they possess only two wings.

I’m quite fond of syrphid flies, so it delighted me to find this one hovering away on Christmas day, enjoying the gift of a vibrant and pollen-rich firewheel (Gaillardia pulchella).


Comments always are welcome.

57 thoughts on “A Flower for Every Fly

  1. It is nice to see the pollinators and flowers in bloom. This weather has been crazy. I have also been watching bees and will have a post about them. Isn’t it wonderful to have the time to observe insects?

    1. The nice thing is that insects are everywhere. I found the cucumber beetle I mentioned on the boat I’m working on, and there’s a leaf-cutter bee that’s busily building a nest — or something — in the shelter of a tiny vent on the side of the boat. I’ve noticed that the fire ant mounds are suddenly growing, too. There’s cold rather than rain in the forecast; I’m not sure what that’s about.

  2. It’s so easy to take for granted these amazing little creatures. I’ll be the first to admit there are many, many species of flies and other little creatures that I’m unfamiliar with. That’s one of the joys of photography for me, trying to identify and learn about those I’m fortunate enough to photograph. It’s also one of the joys of coming here, I always learn something. Glad to see you found this one.

    1. It’s often hard for me even to sort out the flowers and grasses. Some insects are easy to identify, because of their bold patterns or unusual colors, but I’ve found that others, like these flies, require more time or better photos than I sometimes have. No matter; I’m perfectly capable of enjoying them even while I’m trying to sort out their identity.

      Besides: those of us who don’t know everything have more opportunities to experience the joy of discovery!

    1. My first thought was “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Then, I wondered: where did that phrase come from? It seems its first appearance in print in that form was in a work by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford in 1878, although variations go back in time through Dickens, David Hume, and of course Shakespeare. Here’s the page where I found all that.

    1. I think so too, although I couldn’t find one with precisely these markings. I spent about a cup of coffee browsing images on BugGuide, but decided the family name would do. This one was especially accomodating, since there were few flowers to flit between.

  3. I really like syrphid flies. There’s such a nice variety of them, all different in color and design. Like you, I’m not seeing them, but they’ll be back in spring and summer! Great shots, Linda!

    1. I’ll second that comment about their variety. When I thought to visit BugGuide to see if I could make a quick visual identification of this one: well. Let’s just say there are many, many more syrphid flies than I realized! I sure was pleased to find this one, as well as some big, fat, shiny black bees that clearly are natives, but still unidentified.

  4. I’d hazard a guess that, as a child, you spent time lying on your stomach outside watching ants and whatnot in the grass going about their daily routines. I know I did.

    I know you probably watched The Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights. Remember “One Day on Beetle Rock?” All the critters going about their day.

    1. I sure did, and I still do. Last fall I came across a line of leaf-cutter ants trucking along, and it was worth a good half-hour of watching. I was amazed at their quickness. You’d think a photo of an ant would be easy enough, but no: they outran me.

      I found the Beetle Rock episode on YouTube; they had classier background music back in the day. I didn’t realize that it was a book as well. You probably know that the author was Sally Carrighar; it was published in 1946, the year I was born. Today, you can get it in hardback, paperback, or Kindle.

    1. I wonder how many 20-year-olds would recognize that slogan today? Since I was raised in a family that discussed Truman, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, and such around the dinner table, perhaps that slogan embedded itself in my subconscious and came to the surface when I titled this post!

    1. I think all the Gaillardia species are beautiful, and their colorful patterns can be as varied as the patterns on the syrphid flies. The combination here was especially pleasing to me.

    1. I suppose the number one reason is that they’re cute. They’re so tiny, and they carry such intricate patterns on their bodies, they’re really fun to photograph. Since they feed on nectar and pollen and don’t bite, they’re not at all annoying. They just fly around, pollinate plants, and look cute!

        1. They can fly backwards. Not only that, it seems that ‘hover-ability’ is a key to mate selection. The longer a male hovers, the more attractive it seems to possible mates. Who knew? They’re great fun. I’ll look forward to seeing them out in force in the spring.

          1. Interesting to hear that males are more attractive if they can hover longer – I guess it shows they (and their offspring) are going to be well able to feed themselves.

    1. I’ve begun to think that late autumn and early winter is a great time to photograph insects. Because there are fewer flowers around, it seems that they tend to linger when they find a bloom. That may not be true at all, of course, but it certainly was true with this one. It stayed put long enough for me to try a couple of different angles, and that doesn’t always happen.

    1. That’s especially visible with the grasshoppers, katydids, and such. I still remember the day I got my first photo of a katydid nymph neatly cleaning its antennae by drawing it through its mouth. Some day I’m going to get a really good photo of that operation; it reminded me of a cat bathing itself, or a preening bird.

    1. Thanks, Jeanie! On one of your cold winter evenings, you might want to have a look at this article about the syrphid flies in your area. I suspect there are dozens, or even more, hovering around your summer flowers. The best news? They don’t bite!

  5. Excellent photo of the hoverfly. I can identify those insects, but the rest are totally confusing for me. I read somewhere that Australia has close to 2000 indigenous bee species, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen one of them, only the common imported bees.

    1. I spent quite some time reading about your bees recently, since I received a jar of Manuka honey as a Christmas gift. When I saw that the company is located in Mudgee, of course I thought of Jane’s Mudgee garden; I don’t know what I thought a ‘mudgee’ was, but now I have it straight in my mind.

      I found this site with some history and information; it’s all very interesting. I haven’t yet learned which bees produce it, but I suspect it might be the imported honey bees. I haven’t tasted it yet, either — that’s yet to come.

          1. Oh yes, used on radiation burns. And leg ulcers. By the better informed of course. I used it to treat chronic throat condition and the relief was heaven. New Zealand Manuka reputed to be the best, but costly.

            1. Yes, and aloe Vera is excellent for burns also. The fresh leaf has a wonderful cooling effect as a bonus. Naturally, prevention is better than cure.

  6. “A flower for every fly?” I thought it was “A fly in every ointment,” “A bee in every bonnet,” “Ants in every pants,” “A beetle for every Bob?” Very nice close-ups of the fly enjoying all that tasty-looking pollen.

    1. And, as a commenter mentioned above: a chicken in every pot! If you look closely, you can see that little guy holding on tight to his treat, just like a kid with an ice cream cone. When he finished with one side, he moved around and pulled the other side right to him; I wished I’d had the skills to record it as a video, because it was truly humorous.

    1. There’s something about tiny things that fascinates: everything from miniature tea sets to the Lord’s Prayer carved into an acorn. When I think about the variety of patterns on these flies, I just shake my head. Wouldn’t it have been enough for Nature to create a dozen patterns, and let it be? Nature isn’t efficient in any human sense, that’s for sure. At least it keeps the taxonomists busy.

  7. I love the idea of a flower for every fly. I am sure the hoverfly does, too. The hoverflies haven’t appeared in my garden yet. Not in noticeable numbers anyway. Last summer they loved the parsley flowers.

    1. The specific connections between insects and flowers is fascinating to me. These little flies can’t feast at the tubular flowers, for example, but your wide-open parsley flowers suit them just fine. I’ve often seen hoverflies around our native prairie parsley, which also attracts those tiny, metallic bees and other small insects.

  8. We share a fly favorite. I wish I could see them still here but all I’ve seen recently was a funnel weaver spider and a centipede awakened in my wood pile by the warm weather. What a delight for you on Christmas Day.

    1. Well! You’ll enjoy seeing the hoverflies I found today. Let’s just say they seemed determined to keep the New Year’s festivities going. I found a blue metallic bee, and an orchard web weaver, too — and a really fascinating plain old fly that didn’t fly, much to my delight. I’m glad all those insects had fun today, because tonight they’re going to have to cope with real cold.

    1. I wonder if you have too much moisture for them? The Missouri Botanical Society says, “Gaillardia pulchella is a hairy annual wildflower that is native to dry open places with sandy soils…Root rot may occur in poorly drained soils, particularly during periods of protracted heavy summer rains.” We know a thing or two about protracted summer rains, and I think I remember you mentioning some drainage issues. That might contribute to your lack of success.

      1. You could be right. I’ve tried to get them established in a low spot that gets standing water after a hard rain but summers are usually dry. The rain seems to go around us.

        1. I remember seeing that rain splitting around you when I look at the radar. There’s another place called (reasonably enough) Umbrella Point over on the east side of Trinity Bay that experiences the same thing. The rain rolls up the bay, or comes down from the north, and just splits. It’s amazing to see.

  9. Once again, you prove that the more we look, the more we see.

    Happy to just see a flower in bloom in winter, that happiness is multiplied by discovering an insect also enjoying the flower.

    The hoverfly is so easy to overlook, yet so incredibly beautiful! With over 6,000 species in the world, we have a LOT of looking to do!

    Thank you for sharing such a great looking insect and that not-too-shabby flower.

    1. I’m busy right now putting together my first post from Walden West. It’s required some consultation with the good people at BugGuide, not to mention a fruitless search through about 14,000 photos of fungi (I jest; there couldn’t have been more than 5,000). There were more flies than I expected that day; every one was a delight to see, and I suspect every one was happy to have its own little flower. Not all of them were feeding, though. A pair of hoverflies seemed to have hooked up on New Year’s Eve and still were celebrating in their hoverfly way!

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