Monday, May 25, 2009

A Bee or Not a Bee?

A couple of weeks ago, we were wandering, not for the first time, around the Robertsau Forest, more or less in Strasbourg.
This is a surprising find, a very large "natural" area tucked in between the European Parliament & the Rhine.

No doubt of great interest to botanists & well-documented nature-lovers (which we are not really, but there are lots of informative notices) it includes a wide variety of different habitats, notably landlocked bits of old Rhine, huge areas of wild garlic, a few wild horses, and even interesting statues.

One detail which caught our eye this time, was a little bee (see my poor illustration).

Something about its behaviour did not seem quite "bee".
Instead of going from flower to flower, it followed us at ankle-level then started hovering just above the dirt path, just touching the ground with its abdomen every few inches, without settling, as though depositing eggs or something in the dusty earth.
We couldn't see any sign of eggs or anything.
And it seemed to have a long, fixed proboscis & longer, thinner legs than bees.

Having noticed one, we then saw dozens during the day, usually with the same behaviour.
It's the only time we have seen, or at least the only time we have noticed, these insects.

Back home, it did not take long (thanks to Google) to find that they are not bees, but bee-flies (Bombylius major).
According to these 2 helpful sites (scroll down for illustrations & descriptions) the bee-fly uses its proboscis to get nectar from flowers, and the ones we saw were indeed laying eggs.
The eggs are covered in dust as camouflage, then left where the larvae can eat real-bee larvae.
Not so charming after all.

Some high quality photographs here:

Parting thot: "If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left." – Falsely attributed to Einstein?

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