Bee-fly

Fierce north easterly wind battering the coastline today. But the sun was shining and, if you could find some shelter from the wind, things could feel quite nice. It was in such a warm pocket that we were watching a Bee-fly at work this morning.

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Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major)

They are extraordinary little things and very busy but this one was obliging enough to rest in the sun for a bit allowing me to take some photos.

These are flies that are trying to mimic bees although they have a fixed non-retractable and extremely long proboscis. They feed on nectar from spring flowers such as primroses and violets – flowers where the nectar is held at the end of a tunnel requiring a proboscis to get to it.

We don’t have many primroses here but we do have a few:

A primrose patch
A primrose patch
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Nectar held at the end of a corolla tube

But it does seem to be an exceptional year for violets here this year:

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Lovely patches of violets all over the meadow this year
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A Violet in profile  – think the nectar is right up in the top purple bit

However, this Bee-fly we were watching was feeding from the Blackthorn flowers:

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This flower is a very different structure and does not require a long proboscis to get at its nectar. Since the Bee-fly cannot retract its proboscis, it was having to hover away from the flower for it all to work.

There are more than a dozen species of Bee-fly in the UK, some of them rare and protected. This one, however, the Dark-edged Bee-fly is widespread and common, flying from April to June when the Spring flowers are out.

Although it is an important pollinator, passing pollen from flower to flower as it buzzes around collecting nectar, it does have a dark side. It lays its eggs on the wing and flicks them towards the opening of burrows of solitary bees. When the eggs hatch, the Bee-fly larvae crawl into the solitary bee tunnels and predate their eggs.

But, ignoring that unpleasant bit, they are delightful little things to discover around the place and they another sign that Spring is storming on in.

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