Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Bee-flies at dawn...

The thing about having an interest in invertebrates is that you do need to actively look for the bugs and insects.Even then, sometimes it pays to take a second look at something that at first glance seems uninteresting.

Yesterday, towards the end of the day I was ambling along past a local pond, keeping an eye out for a kingfisher that I've seen there recently, when I noticed that something looked odd about a bud on the branch of a tree as I passed.

Only half-interested, I dismissed it and walked on:but knowing that it's often a closer look that reveals anything that might be there,it nagged at me.
"Go back and have a look" the voice in my head kept saying. "Can't be bothered"    said the other voice! (Don't ask, I have lots of voices in my head all the time-it's rarely quiet in there) And then I found myself stopping and turning back before the second voice had time to complain again.

Anyhow, the internal fighting was all worthwhile on this occasion because had I not taken another look I would not have learned what I now know.
The whole point of this blog is to share these things and so that's what I'd better do....cue first photo!

Bombylius major

And so what you might be thinking is so interesting about this particular photograph?
Well, this is what the 'bud' turned out to be on closer inspection. These bee-flies are a common sight in spring but until now I've  not seen them anywhere other than at flowers nectering, or sunbathing on warm stones etc.

Then there's the additional fact that I've learnt from past experiences that these insects do not usually hang around waiting to have their photograph taken.
I began to wonder then if this one was 'roosting' for the night? A lot of insects will sit out the hours of darkness, motionless until the sun warms/dries them enough to take flight again.I'd not heard of bee-flies doing this and so it would be new information to me if it turned out that I was right.

I reasoned that if it was displaying this behaviour, then an early morning visit would be in order for today with the chances of it being in the same spot pretty high. I took another shot from the other side and made a mental note of just which tree it was on and tied a length of grass around the branch in question to make locating it easier today.

I was hoping that today would start with damp conditions and I'd find the bee-fly covered in dew-I've photographed other insects in this condition and it makes for an interesting shot. However, it was not to be and when I rose at 5.30am it was obvious that there had actually been a frost.
Would my insect be there now? Would it have survived the harsh conditions out in the open as it was? (Stay with me, this is what's called the 'Teaser' in T.V. terms, I'm trying to build the excitement.) Before I would have my answer, there was another little chore that needed to be done:as I strolled towards the area in question it started to dawn on me (do you see what I did there? Dawn on me!...Ahem!) that there could be a lovely sunrise and it looked fairly imminent too.

I'd hardly got the camera set up before an area beyond the trees to the east of me, began to exhibit amazing hues of red, orange and gold that looked like there had been some kind of weird accident in heaven and the angels were bleeding all over the sky. (That's from a confirmed humanist too!).

I couldn't resist...

Just for a moment it was almost overwhelming-the sky was ablaze, there was that early-spring chill in the air, the only sound to be heard was the skylarks  singing overhead and I still had the main event ahead of me.
The sunrise, as beautiful as it was faded in no time at all though and my thoughts returned to the little bee-fly:would it still be there?

I easily located the tree and then correct branch and there it was, success! Not only a treat to see but confirmation of something I'd previously had no idea happened. That's what I love about bug-hunting, there's always something new to learn.The only thing I noticed was that it had moved down the branch a little overnight.
The following few photographs are the ones I shot this morning at around 7am. I tried to make them as interesting and artistic as possible by getting the glow of the sunrise behind the insect, I hope you like them.


A male Bee-Fly

I had a hunt around for some further information about this behaviour and managed to put together a few interesting bits of research.
Those who have studied these insects in much more detail than I have found that some of the species will fly along the ground to absorb heat, whilst others fly further up tress to maximise direct heat.

When cold (at night for instance) they will perch vertically, pointing upwards, and they can remain in this position for a week or even longer.
They will then whirr their wings to warm up the flight muscles before take off.
I haven't yet found a definitive answer as to why some are paler with white areas, as this one is. The only plausible answer could be that the ones that emerge early seem to be lighter. I'm not sure I would go along with that myself as I've photographed these lighter coloured ones later in the year.

The adult males exhibit courtship rituals - they hover at height and exhibit territorial behaviour which includes darting at rival males and spinning at females.

That's about it for bee-flies then, I hope you've found it at least half as interesting as I have?

Until the next time then...


  1. Great plan JJ. The top two images are great but the sunrise makes it special. Derek Cluskey

  2. Thanks Derek. I was pleased not only to see this but to get some photos too.

  3. I found this post interesting - thanks JJ. Way back in my archives I have one showing this behaviour and thought you might be interested (hope you don't mind me putting link): http://www.flickr.com/photos/rachel_s/2419035178/

    Very impressed with your sunrise backdrop!

  4. Thank-you Rachel. Unfortunately your link didn't show up here, I've not yet worked out for myself how to get a link to show in a comment. Anyhow, I managed to see it through my e.mail and it's a terrific shot and interesting that it's a pale one like mine. I see it was in 2008!

    Thanks for the comment and for sharing your photo.



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