Thursday, 30 April 2015

Bombyliid fly

This strange-looking insect is a bombyliid fly or large bee-fly (Bombylius major).  Despite its fearsome appearance it is harmless (to us) and the long proboscis is used for sipping nectar.

The bee-fly is not harmless to solitary bees and wasps, however, because it is a parasite.  It is a bee mimic so that it can get close to bees and their nests.  The female bee-fly flicks her eggs into or near the nest of a solitary bee or solitary wasp and the larvae that hatch eat the food stored in the nest as well as the bee or wasp larvae.

When I saw hairy-footed flower bees in The Alnwick Garden the other day I noticed bee-flies were taking nectar from the same flowers at the same time, illustrating how good the mimicry is, to our eyes at least.  This is a large bee-fly

And this is a male hairy-footed flower bee.  

I presume that hairy-footed flower bees are unwitting hosts of bee-flies.  They are also parasitised by the cuckoo bee Melecta albifrons but I didn't see any of those.  Maybe they aren't found this far north (yet!).

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