Saturday, April 18, 2015

Little Pollinators

Fuzzy Butt strikes again
A wide variety of tiny flying insects were swarming the newly opened blossoms on our wild plum trees (Prunus americana) along the lane.  I set up to photograph them, focusing on one branch or another and firing wildly as they settled for a second or less before sampling another blossom.  I shot 150 pictures just to capture a few good pictures.  I could relate to the infinite number of monkeys at their infinite number of typewriters (word processors?) trying to reproduce the works of Shakespeare.

Proboscis deep in a blossom
One particular insect species was all over the trees, plunging head first into the blossoms.  All I could see was its brown rear sticking up and I named it "Fuzzy Butt" for lack of a better identification.  A few pictures showed a slender proboscis drilling deep into the nectar pool.  After two days of photographing it, one of the FB's decided to land on the gravel driveway and I was able to capture it.

Bee Fly- Bombylius major
FB turns out to be a BF, a bee fly, Bombylius majorThese are bee mimics, looking and flying like them.  The proboscis is impressive, looking lethal but actually harmless.  Notice in the flower pictures that the wings don't show up.  The fly feeds with its wings flapping continuously as it clings to the flower with its legs.

The bee fly has another bee connection.  The female will fly close to a digging bee burrow and flick her eggs into the hole.  When her young emerge they will feed on both the stored food and the bee larvae.  She may also lay eggs on flowers which draw host insects.  Her larvae then can attach to a visiting bee or wasp and get a free ride to their home.

There were at least 5 other species visiting the flowers although they were rapid and impossible to identify.  Plum blossoms are small, but much larger than most of the flowers this time of year.  Their nectar is deep inside the blossom so bee flies are especially well equipped to reach it.

Unknown fly
Several other insects much smaller that the individual petals plunged deeply into the heart of the blossom, tiny unidentifiable black dots which remain anonymous.  A few flies of different species fought their way into the nectar pool.  There are only a few butterflies that come to nectar at this time of year and so the plum remains dependent on its diverse insect friends.


When we think of pollinators at all, we tend to focus on bees and butterflies, but there is a lot more fertilization action going on in those blossoms.  There is a huge list of plum pollinators listed at Illinoiswildflowers.info.  As Paul McCartney would have said if asked, "they get by with a little help of their (little) friends."

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