At nearly 1300 described species in North America alone, the Long-legged Flies (Dolichopodidae) are ubiquitous, under-studies and totally unappreciated. Little is known about most of this group’s life histories and habits, especially as larvae. These guys are under appreciated because few know or applaud their function as key predators in backyard and agricultural habitats. Both larval and adult forms of dolichipodids eat a wide variety of pest insects, including other flies, mites, aphids, scale insects and beetles.
I have discerned three Long-legged species in the backyard and have been able to photograph the two pictured in this post. The most well known and common have the multi-colored, metallic luster of the insect in the first photograph, while the other is more earth-toned and with a pair of dark spots on its wings.
Many species in this family are known for elaborate mating dances, equipped with colored flags on their front legs that they use to seduce and entice potential mates. Sexual selection is even at work on the insects. No one escapes…
Anyone who has spent any amount of time studying flowers in the backyard garden has at some point noticed Syrphid flies. Known as hover flies, flower flies, bee flies and other names, this group is most well known for mimicking bees and wasps (Batesian mimicry). This small guy was captured feeding on my Ohio Spiderwort this spring.
This is quite the important group of insects. The Syrphids are major pollinators for numerous flowering plants, potentially as important as native bees in this service. Larvae in this group may feed on rotting vegetation and many species will feed on aphids and other plant pests. The rather large bee fly pictured above was found feeding on a Common Milkweed in the backyard.
Eating and making baby Syrphids… If it isn’t already on a T-shirt, it should be. I often find these guys doing the Diptera 12-step in my backyard. If we did that, we’d be thrown in jail!
The beetles (order Coleoptera) are famous for being the most diverse group of animals on the planet. The flies, however, are not too far behind and many people are surprised to hear how many forms and places flies can be found. I have been able to find and photograph a few of these forms in my own backyard and will share them here. I photographed this carrion fly (Calliphoridae) hanging out on my rosinweed.
Most soldier beetles are true opportunists when it comes to tucker. While not being the most efficient pollinators, these beetles can be found around almost any flowers from mid to late summer where they feed on nectar, pollen and small insects like aphids and ants. This one was photographed on my common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).
I imagine the conversation may have went something like this…
Aphid (with a cockney accent, of course): “Oh, hello, who are you then?”
Damsel: “Name’s Damsel…” “Oh, that’s a lovely name. My name is Aphid.” “No, I think I’ll call you ‘Sugar Bag.’ “ “Sugar Bag? Now that doesn’t sound Aghhh!…”
I caught a glimpse of this guy early one morning patrolling around the surfaces of my rosinweed and decided to watch. I didn’t wait long to observe the hunt. This bug is definitely in the family Nabidae, and I am going to call this one the common damsel bug, Nabis americoferus, due to it matching a few photos and the fact that this is considered to be the one of the most common hemipterans in the United States.
I have read that these guys overwinter as adults and have a wide selection in the prey they choose. It seems that if it is smaller than they are, or close in size at least, they will poke it and suck out their hemolymph. Like I said, “damsel” in name only…
This Locust Borer (Family Cerambycidae) was photographed this fall feeding on Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima) that grow in my wildflower patches in our yard.
The Locust Borer’s preferred larval host plant, the black locust tree, is now widespread across North America and Europe, but was originally found in the Appalachian and Ozark regions.
It is unclear whether the color and pattern of this long-horned beetle serves to mimic the aposematic coloration of the well-known yellow jacket wasps (Batesian mimicry), or for crypsis – allowing for camouflage in the goldenrod, where they are often found.
I apologize for the tacky post title. I just wanted to let everyone know that I am busy at work in preparation for the ninth annual Art at the Shaw Nature Reserve Show and Sale – 2014. If you are reading this and have the ability to visit, please stop by to see more than 20 talented artists of many different media. I look forward to meeting and talk with you. It is a very nice event.
Another common visitor to native wildflower gardens are metallic sweat bees (Halictidae: Agapostemon sp.) such as the one posted here. Most species are quite small and are usually very active. It is best to try and photograph these guys (like most insects) at first light on a relatively cool morning.