buzzy days

A mating pair of wasp mimic flies — probably Temnostoma alternans

If you visited my blog earlier today, you may have seen this post with no text. I must have hit the publish after placing the photos but before writing the text. Oops! That’s probably a first for me.

Anyhow, Just a few little notes before I go out to work in the garden. Yesterday, I found a few interesting things around the fields and gardens. We have a large patch of an old variety of yellow rose — I don’t know which one it might be, but the patch is now about 6 by 20 feet and is covered with a mass of small, soft yellow roses for about two weeks in June. Many pollinators are hanging about it right at the moment. Among them was this handsome pair of hover flies (click on all images for larger view). The female (the larger one on the left) is an extremely convincing yellow-jacket wasp mimic. I’m quite sure the species of this pair is Temnostoma alternans. It was interesting to watch this pair as the female seemed far more interested in flying from flower to flower and would quickly riffle through the stamens, presumably eating pollen and nectar. She seemed to be the one doing all the flying with the male in tow. Three years ago, I photographed a somewhat similar pair of wasp mimic flies — in that case, they were Spilomyia sayi which actually make a sound so like a wasp or hornet, and look so much like a Bald-faced Hornet (Dolichovespula maculata) or similar, that it’s actually difficult to convince yourself otherwise. The pair of Spilomyia were able to fly very quickly despite their connection, and they made a rather frightening sight as they are quite large and they buzz their wings very much like hornets.

First Monarch caterpillar sighting of the season

Yesterday, I also saw the first Monarch caterpillar of the season on a knee-high tall milkweed plant out in the oldfield meadow. It was just a tiny thing, not even half the length of my thumbnail.

False Crocus Moth (Xanthotype urticaria)

Last, but not the only other sighting of the day, was a False Crocus Moth, found on vegetation in the perennial garden. I caught a glimpse of it while hanging clothes on the line. These moths cling to the underside of leaves in shady spots during the daytime, and are quite camouflaged as the bits of yellow wing extending out from under vegetation look like small slices of sunlight upon the leaves. Although it looks like a butterfly, it is a moth — the antennae of the males being wide and feathery with many teeth like a comb.

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12 Responses to “buzzy days”

  1. DougT Says:

    Gprgepus pictures, I especially liked the hoverflies. Is the white on the leaf in the picture of the monarch larva dried milkweed latex?

  2. bev Says:

    Doug – Yes, the white is just latex. I sometimes see that around the monarch cats, although I have to say it’s a lot more common to see that when weevils and longhorn beetles have been feeding on the leaves.

  3. robin andrea Says:

    Great photographs, bev. Will you be collecting monarch caterpillars again this year and documenting their life cycle? That was one of the most interesting things I’ve ever seen blogged.

    We have rain again. No insects. I always wonder what the swallows eat in this kind of weather. We’ve been watching and mostly they stay in the nest boxes. Today, even though it’s heavy drizzle, they are out looking for food. I wish I had something I could feed them. Your moth looks just right.

  4. Pamela Says:

    I saw something similar to your wasp mimics today–might it be safe to say that when the yellow stripes look painted on it’s probably a mimic? I also photographed and submitted for identification to BugGuide a scarab beetle, asking if it was a bee! Turned out to be a member of the genus Trichiotinus (hairy flower scarab). Buzzy days indeed.

  5. bev Says:

    robin – Thanks! I intend to do some record-keeping associated with the Monarch caterpillars, but I don’t think I’ll raise any this year. We have a couple of trips planned over the summer and the caterpillars are sort of demanding — lots of daily care to keep everyone well fed and the containers clean. That said, I did enjoy it very much last year. The one thing I may do this year, and I guess this seems like form of “intervention” is that I might just relocate predatory stinkbugs and assassin bugs when I find them wandering around on the milkweed that is within the back garden. That would definitely give the larvae a better chance for survival as one stinkbug can sure kill a lot of caterpillars in a short period of time. It would be an interesting experiment just for its own sake.
    Regarding wet weather and insects — when it rains, the insects go in under the foliage. Sometimes you can find them, but it’s wet work and usually not worth the bother as it’s too dull to take good photos anyway.
    I guess that wet, rainy weather is not good for swallows. I’ve read discussions about this on a couple of the naturalist listservs. Btw, the weather seems to be very similar out in Nova Scotia this year. I’ve been keeping an eye on the forecasts on both coasts all spring and it’s sort of remarkable how the weather has been so cool, overcast and unsettled. Meanwhile, here in Ontario, we’ve gone from cool to very warm.

    Pamela – I love Trichiotinus (sometimes also called Bee-like flower chafer – a logical name). They look like bees wearing saddles! I first saw them in Nova Scotia a couple or so years ago, but saw the first one at the farm last summer. Here’s a post with a photo of the one I saw last year right around this time. I’ll have to be watching for them again now.

  6. cyndy Says:

    I really enjoy your photos of the insects and moths etc. from around your garden! Just beatiful!

  7. bev Says:

    Cyndy – Thanks! Glad you are enjoying them!

  8. Wayne Says:

    Bev – it was a year ago last week that you identified as a thick-headed fly a wasp mimic that fooled me! Unfortunately our Parthenium integrifolium doesn’t seem to have made it back this year (or maybe the deer got it).

    Hoverflies are great, and I was originally fooled by the resemblance to a hornet. I’m glad I wised up, because I am tickled by their generous company, and that’s far better than imagining they’re raving stinging hornets out to get me.

    Very nice identification on the false crocus moth.

  9. Larry Ayers Says:

    I’ll keep an eye out for this moth, which has been seen down here in Missouri. Nice photo!

  10. Cathy Says:

    Bev –
    No kidding? I’d have bet money that that was a stinging insect. Talk about unromantic coupling :0)

    I’m glad you described the size of the monarch caterpillar. I’d have guessed it was much large.

  11. John Says:

    Bev, since you mentioned Nova Scotia to Pamela, and that, alone, lets me diverge from the topic at hand: do you have any recommendations for places to go/stay in Nova Scotia in August or early September, that would allow lots of opportunities to explore nature and also lots of opportunities to get a “feel” for Nova Scotial in a more general sense? I know, it’s a tall order! Anything you can offer though…thanks!

  12. bev Says:

    Wayne – Yes, as a matter of fact, it *is* nice to know that a lot of the wasps or hornet around us, are actually entirely harmless wasp-mimic flies. Having observed many of these insects, I’d venture to estimate that a good 50 percent (or possibly even more) of what we think are stinging wasps, bees or hornets, are actually flies.

    Larry – The False Crocus Moth has quite a large range, so I think you should be able to find them. They’re pretty small — about the size of a quarter maybe. Look for them in tall grass or goldenrod in oldfield meadows in June or perhaps on into the summer. You’re most likely to spot one flying up from among the grass as you walk along, but since I’ve become used to seeing them, I generally spot them by noticing the tips of their wings visible along wide blades of grass or on goldenrod leaves.

    Cathy – They’re pretty convincing wasp mimics, aren’t they?! A lot of the wasp mimic flies both look and sound like bees or wasps and require a good look to recognize. And yes, that caterpillar was very small – I doubt it was even half an inch long.

    John – I’ll try to think of some recommendations for Nova Scotia — and Peter.. if you read this post, perhaps you can make some too. I’ll either send you an email, or post something over at your blog in the next couple of days.