introduction - galleries - technique - catalogue - notes - links - contact - blog - deep nature

Greater Bee Fly

Prairie Revery

While Bob headed for his favorite patch Shooting Stars at Rochester Cemetery, Linda headed to the corner where the Birdsfoot Violets, Columbines and Yellow Lady?s Slippers are found among the Shooting Stars. It promised to be a lovely evening for images and for the peace that descends when in a special place. Rochester Cemetery, in Cedar Co., Iowa, is a wonderful prairie remnant that also has several big old savannah oaks and many forbs: Wood Betony, Mayapples, Meadow Rue, Wild Geraniums, Prairie Phlox, Star-flowered False Solomon?s Seal, etc. It also has more than its share of Garlic Mustard. Volunteers attack the Garlic Mustard every year and are keeping it somewhat in check. We generally visit Rochester Cemetery several times each year especially when its fabulous array of pink, white and lavender Shooting Stars and Yellow Lady?s Slippers are in bloom in May.

The Columbines were hung with all manner of chandeliers and presenting many compositional choices. Among the many hungry mosquitoes, the occasional bee was seen and heard. Then a large insect with a furry body, long black proboscis, huge eyes and two wings came in to loop, circle and inspect the columbine patch. With an imposing scientific name Bombylius, this fly, masquerading as a bumblebee and behaving like a hummingbird, is commonly called Bee Fly. It was probably Bombylius major, the Greater Bee Fly, though there are hundreds of Bee Fly species. Bee Flies can hover while they sip nectar. They dart about quickly and are much more agile than bumblebees, with which they are sometimes confused.

While this Bee Fly settled on a blossom, a gorgeous male Ruby-throated Hummingbird buzzed among the Columbines and, being camera shy, left without sitting (hovering) for a portrait. The Bee Fly was a gracious model, positioned well in the setting sun. It was possible to study and photograph it while it rested; a rare opportunity for this active insect.

With the profusion of flowers on the prairie, there should have been more insect pollinators on this warm spring evening. An entomologist friend who does insect censuses for the Department of Natural Resources, reported that he has seen very few insects this year on the preserves that he monitors. That may be why the ones we do see are so obvious and noteworthy without the background ?noise? of many insects.

Hover-flies are another favorite companion insect to the native flowers we love to photograph. Its wonderful translucent wings take on the colors of the blossom or leaves behind it. The colors become iridescent in gentle light. They are often overlooked, or dismissed as little bees or tiny wasps, even when noticed. Hover-flies are important pollinators and their larvae eat aphids. They also are delightful accents on flower compositions. There seem to be fewer about this year in our garden and in the preserves we visit.

There are many flies that have evolved to mimic bees and wasps, probably as protection against predators that want to avoid stings. Even when the resemblance is quite close the tell-tale distinguishing feature is that flies have two wings (one pair) while bees and wasps have two pairs. The patterns, colors and stripes of the ?unarmed? flies provide little bits of costume jewelry for already lovely native plants.

We met again at the Yellow Lady?s Slippers where plump buds and fully opened blooms competed for attention as we tried to minimize our impact on their neighbors. We felt less guilty when the neighbor was a bracken fern and were careful with our tripod placement in concern for the others while trying to avoid the poison ivy. This is always a dilemma for photographers. The need to practice one?s art is balanced against the desire to protect the special places where beautiful plants live.

This was made more poignant by the few pollinators we saw that evening. While prairie grasses are wind pollinated, the prairie forbs require bees. We hope that we never need to be content with Emily Dickinson?s observation:

?To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover, and a bee,
And revery.
The revery alone will do
If bees are few.?

? Linda & Robert Scarth, 2006.

First published in NatureScape News, 1 (7), B2, 2006.

back to notes

Linda & Robert Scarth


All images are copyright protected and may only be used with our permission.