What you might have seen at Day of Insects…

Every year for over a decade Nathan Brockman, M.J. Hatfield, Anita Westphal, and a host of other people have worked really hard to put on an event at Reiman Gardens called Day of Insects.  It is a great event for folks like me who are interested in issues related to the conservation and biological diversity of insects.  This year it was cancelled due to COVID-19 response.  We were all terribly disappointed because I think everyone who goes to it (in recent years it has grown to over 100 participants) does it because it is so much fun.  It was scheduled to occur today.

I had been scheduled to give a talk on “Charismatic Flies.”  Conservationists talk about “charismatic megafauna” which are the large animals with some kind of widespread appeal because their beauty, size, ferocity, or symbolic value.

Insects like butterflies and dragonflies are often charismatic as well.  Flies are usually not considered to be charismatic, but I think that is just because we don’t look closely enough at them.

If you spend some time looking at the early spring wildflowers in Iowa, or the early butterflies, you will probably encounter this bee fly called Bombylius major.  Charismatic?  Look at that cute, furry creature.  How can it not be?

If you look closely on the leaves and stems of giant ragweed in July you might see these tiny flies displaying to each other or to whoever else happens upon them.  This is an obvious visual display, like you might see a peacock do.  This fly is Euaresta festiva.

On common ragweed you might find a fly in the same genus, E. bella.  Cockleburr has another similar species.

We have a lot of bee fly species here in Iowa, but most seem rare or at least are rarely seen.  This one is in the genus Villa.

This fly might be quite rare.  I have only seen it once, at Doolittle Prairie.  It is Myiomyrmica fenestrata.  A number of them were crawling along the stems of plants, looking for all the world like ants.  With their tiny wings I got the impression that they could not fly, and in fact I did not see them fly.  But I don’t know for sure that they can’t.

I don’t know what this tiny fly is.  Maybe a dance fly in the Empididae?  You don’t have to know what something is called to appreciate its beauty.

Mydas flies are large wasp mimics.  We have two species documented for Iowa.  This is Mydas clavatus.  When it flies it sounds like a large, angry wasp.

The eyes of this large robber fly, Promachus vertebratus, are a brilliant green.

Euthycera arcuata is found near water.  It is a parasite or parasitoid of aquatic snails in its larval form.

Sometimes it is not the adult that is charismatic, but the larva.  These larva of the dark-winged fungus gnats (Sclaridae) cluster together when they travel, and act like one organism.  They look like a large garden slug as they travel across a sidewalk.

The star of my little presentation was going to be the long-tail dance fly, Rhamphomyia longicauda.  This is a male.

When these flies mate, the male captures another insect as a nuptial gift.

This is a female.  The male, with his expensive meal, wants to impress the sexiest female out there.  That means one that is fat with eggs.  This skinny little gal might not be the one he chooses.

So she inflates her abdomen with air.  Now, with her artificially enhanced beauty, she is a highly desired female.

I have never been able to see or photograph the lek that these flies form.  I think it happens right around twilight when the flies are very difficult to see.  But there is a photo of it on bugguide.

To all the friends I missed seeing today–hang in there.  Sorry it didn’t happen.  Hopefully I will see you next year.


About the roused bear

Nature photographer from central Iowa.
This entry was posted in diptera, insects, invertebrates, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to What you might have seen at Day of Insects…

  1. Stephanie Hazen says:

    What a wonderful article about flies! All new information to me. And…your photography is stellar!

  2. jim durbin says:

    Always enjoy your posts. Hope to get out soon and start looking.

  3. Mark Widrlechner says:

    Thanks, Harlan. I clearly don’t pay enough attention to our local flies.

  4. MJ Hatfield says:

    And thanks.

  5. stephe59 says:

    Super photos. You done the diptera proud. Thank you, Harlan

  6. Thanks Harlan! These flies and your photography are phenomenol!

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