|Unknown fly nectaring on Hamamelis mollis at a local nursery|
Yes, I did say flies! Those pesky, annoying creatures that buzz around our heads and food are excellent pollinators.
|Unknown fly nectaring on Hamamelis vernalis|
I've been hoping to capture at least one photo of a winter pollinator visiting the Hamamelis vernalis at Clay and Limestone. It's been my quest to discover if there is a specialized pollinator. What a surprise to see flies! Not anything special either. They look like, your regular old houseflies, too. But, there they were on a warm February day, nectaring on (and hopefully carrying a bit of pollen to the next flower) the only blooming plants in my garden~the native witch hazels.
|True Flies only have two wings|
Dipteras, the two winged insect group named by Aristotle, is large~with over 140,000 species world wide! Although, many members of this group are real pests (gnats midges and mosquitoes), many have ecological and human (medical and economic) importance.* Entomologists can and do spend their entire careers studying one or two families! For today's post, we'll just take a superficial look at those critters most likely to visit our gardens! (Forgive me, please, but, I do have to use the word maggot!)
|Hover Fly on Gaura|
Flies~have a holometabolous life cycle. Which means they have complete metamorphism from egg to larvae/maggot to adult. They live in water, soil, plants, the sea, streams, lake, rivers, animals and even other insects. They are opportunists and will eat almost anything. That's one of the reasons they are SO important for our gardens...their voracious appetites!
|Flower Fly on monarda|
My favorite fly pollinators are the Syrphid Flies. I know you've noticed them. They are those beautifully patterned critters that we see hovering and darting about the garden. They're known as Flower Flies in the US and Hover Flies in the UK. They're stingless bee and wasp mimics, so, you don't need to be afraid of them. They are excellent pollinators and their larval stage is equally important. They eat aphids, scale and other soft bodied garden pests! If you see Hover Flies hovering and darting about~look nearby for their larvae. (I know, there's that word again!)
Look for their white, oval eggs, singly or in groups on leaves. They'll hatch into green, yellow, brown, orange, or white half-inch maggots that look like caterpillars. You might even see them raised up on their hind legs in order to catch and feed on aphids, mealybugs and even some beneficial bugs.
They are beautiful creatures and I am always excited to find them hovering and darting about. Their presence assures me that the garden has a good mixture of plants to attract them and other beneficial insects.
|One pair of wings and a honeybee mimic|
To attract them to our gardens we can plant a variety of annual, herbs and native perennials. Achilleas, asters, dill, lemon balm, spearmints, monardas, penstemons, veronicas, zinnias, thymes, sedums, sweet alyssums, fennels, buckwheat, and lavenders are just a few of the many plants you can choose to make your garden a haven for all pollinators. (source and list of flowers to plant).
|But, back to flies!|
Generally speaking~flowers that are pollinated by flies and gnats have similar characteristics. The arum (below) is a perfect example of a flower that has evolved specifically to attract them. Its rotting flesh 'fragrance' was wafting across the David-Peece garden during our Austin Spring Fling visit in 2008.
|This arum smells like rotting flesh to attract its pollinator flies and beetles!|
- Characteristics of fly attractive flowers are generally~
- Pale and dull to dark brown or purple
- Sometimes flecked with translucent patches
- Putrid order, like rotting meat, carrion, dung, humus, sap and blood
- Nectar guides not present
- Produce pollen
- Flowers are funnel like or complex traps (source)
|True flies on fall blooming Crocus speciosus|
This post is part of a series on native pollinators in the garden~ Earlier posts and their links are listed below for your convenience.
Part I~Now Is The Time To Bee-gin Thinking About Bees ( here)
This Is The Place To Bee ( here)
If You Could Plant Only One Plant In Your Garden~Don't (here)
Must Bee The Season of The Witch (here)
Go Bare In Your Garden (here)
Other bee posts you might want to read~
Count Yourself Lucky To Have Hoverflies (here)
Bumblebee Hotel (here)
Still Taking Care Of Bzzness (here)
My Sweet Embraceable You (here)
*Oh my~Blowflies are important in forensic science; their maggots are being used in medical research on wounds; and, they've also been introduced in a greenhouse experiment to see how well they can actually pollinate.
This post was written by Gail Eichelberger for my blog Clay and Limestone Copyright 2011.This work protected under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. Please contact me for permission to copy, reproduce, scrape, etc.