|Yellowjacket hover fly, Milesia virginiensis - REK|
Syrphid flies hover around flowers before landing to feed on nectar and pollen. They look dangerous but they have no bite or sting and are entirely harmless. Not so with their larvae which are predators on garden pests like aphids, scale insects and thrips. They can destroy hundreds of aphids overnight, and when lady beetle populations are low they become the dominate predator.
My favorite is the yellowjacket hover fly, Milesia virginiensis, seen above. It is a noisy creature and its sound and pattern is distinctive enough that I don't usually even look to identify it. At first glance its hornet body shape and loud buzzing are threatening, a great example of Batesian mimicry to avoid predators, but watch it closely and it just wants to be friends. It is a very friendly and curious insect that seems to enjoy human companionship. It's known as the "news bee" for its habit of hovering relatively close to your face as though it was delivering the latest gossip. No other insect does this and its behavior is as distinctive as its markings. It is said that it's good luck if one can get the insect to perch on a finger.* Given their sound and appearance, it is more a mark of bravery.
M. vrginiensis has a stalking behavior in mating. The male hangs around flowers in the morning looking for females, then moves to areas where the females lay their eggs later in the day. For those wanting to take a stab at insect identification, Americaninsects.net has this description that you can compare with the pictures.
"Traits of the adult to watch for include: a completely yellow face; yellow to light brown antennae; yellow femora and tibiae, with the tarsi somewhat darker. Wings cloudy but unpatterned, typically darker at the apical end."
|Sphecomyia vittata female - REK|
|Toxomerus marginatus male - ID by James Trager|
"Like all other flies the males have bigger eyes which come closer together at the top of the head. Females have much smaller eyes, placed farther apart. Tiny eyes or ocelli are composed of single cells and are found at the top of the head in a triangle between the large compound eyes." Microscopy-uk.orgNow with your new-found knowledge about sexing (not sexting) a hover fly, you can see that this specimen I photographed was a female. You are now off on your way to being an entomologist! Just a few more years to go, but a warning.....It can be addictive.
* Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America