Bee-flies

Field Paintings

After a slow start it has been a good spring for watching these amazing insects. The first Bombylius major (such a great name!) emerged in early April so I spent some time sketching them around a patch of primroses on the edge of Brook Wood. On 12th April I watched one fly in to roost on a hazel twig during the late afternoon. These flies always roost upside down with their proboscis pointing skywards and wings swept back so the water drips neatly off them. I found another nearby and these remained in position for the next couple of rainy days. When the sunshine eventually returned they immediately— started to whirr their wings to warm up and take flight.

After mating the female spends most of her time egg laying and feeding. She collects dust on a fringe of hairs at the tip of her abdomen by using her legs to prop up her body whilst ‘hoovering’ up the dust. She then flies low along the edges of paths and bare ground seeking out suitable egg laying sites. The tiny eggs are coated with dust to give them some weight so they are easier to lay. When a good spot is found she hovers momentarily then flicks her body forward and lays an ‘invisible’ egg into the ground. This happens extremely quickly and would require a high speed camera to reveal the motion exactly.

Whilst looking for bees on the coast at Prawle Point I was pleased to see the much scarcer Dotted Bee-fly Bombylius discolor. This is a handsome creature as well with a dark- chestnut body and neatly spotted wings. For some reason it seems to occur mainly on the coast in Devon where there are large solitary bee colonies in soft-rock cliffs.

John Walters

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