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Posts Tagged ‘Rudbeckia fulgida’

During the warmer months of 2012, I photographed lots of invertebrates like insects and spiders. I didn’t know much about many of them, including their identities. This winter, I’m reviewing the photos to try to identify and learn more about the subjects.

Here’s a photo I took in August of a fuzzy black and yellow winged insect that had a fondness for Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia fulgida, also goes by the common name Eastern Coneflower).

Lepidophora lutea Hunchback Bee Fly on Rudbeckia fulgida Black Eyed Susan proboscis

Mystery insect

After searching through insect field guides including BugGuide.net, I identified it as a Hunchback Bee Fly (Lepidophora lutea). Bee flies (family Bombyliidae) are members of the insect order Diptera, or flies. Members of this order have only one pair of membranous wings, while most other insects have two pairs of wings. The common name, bee fly, comes from the resemblance of many species to bees. Bee fly is also an apt name because the larvae of many species of bee flies are parasites on the larvae of burrowing solitary bees and wasps.

Lepidophora lutea Hunchback bee fly on Rudbeckia fulgida Black Eyed Susan dorsal

Hunchback Bee Fly top view

The scary-looking appendage projecting out the front of the Hunchback Bee Fly is actually a harmless proboscis that the insect uses to feed on nectar and pollen from flowers. Bee flies are important pollinators of many flowering plants. The Hunchback Bee Fly favors Black-eyed Susans and other members of the Aster (Asteraceae) plant family that are in bloom in July and August when the adult insects are active.

Lepidophora lutea Hunchback Bee Fly Rudbeckia fulgida Black Eyed Susan nectaring

Hunchback Bee Fly uses its long proboscis to feed on nectar and pollen

Bee flies are strong fliers that can hover and quickly dart about in all directions. Bee flies use their hovering skills during mating and while feeding on flowers. Female bee flies also hover near the ground while searching for the entrance of a bee or wasp nest to host their offspring. If the bee fly spots what looks like a nest entrance, she’ll fling an egg toward it from her hovering position with remarkable accuracy.

A Smaller, Furrier Bee Fly

I had already been aware of another species of bee fly that’s common in my area–one that is smaller, more rounded, and furrier-looking than the Hunchback Bee Fly. This other species is called the Greater Bee Fly (Bombylius major).

Bombylius major Greater Bee Fly hovers over Sanguinaria canadensis Bloodroot

Greater Bee Fly hovers over Bloodroot flower

Bombylius major Greater Bee Fly on Sanguinaria canadensis Bloodroot proboscis

Greater Bee Fly has long, slender proboscis

Andrena or Mining bee

Mining bee, parasitic host for Greater Bee Fly (Photo by Joseph Berger, Bugwood.org)

Greater Bee Flies arrive in my area in April, when early-blooming flowers like Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) begin to open.

I’ve often observed Greater Bee Flies hovering over open ground on sunny spring days—they may have been females searching for the nest openings of their parasitic host, mining bees of the genus Andrena.

Worldwide Bee Fly Distribution

There are about 5000 species of bee flies worldwide and about 800 in North America north of Mexico. They’re most commonly found in arid regions where they are particularly valuable pollinators of flowering plants.

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