Tuesday, June 21, 2011

What's That Bee Eating?

Laurie sends these pictures that her friend, Tim Herr from Georgia, took of what appears to be a bumblebee sucking the juices from a beetle.  This would be very un-bee-like behavior from our friendly pollinator.  Bees are vegetarians, not carnivores, so what's going on?

Turns out it's not a bee, but a carnivorous Robber Fly, Laphria spp.  The large compound eyes are a clue, and there is only one pair of wings, which makes it definitive, belonging to the insect order Diptera (two winged), not Hymenoptera (membrane winged).  
After injecting the hapless meal with saliva that paralyzes and digests the prey’s bodily contents, the robber fly retires back to its perch and slurps up its insect smoothie. Although humans are never on its menu, a robber fly can inflict a painful bite if mishandled.
Creepy.  But, they are considered beneficial in the same way that spiders are considered beneficial, in that they eat other insects, and like spiders, do so indiscriminately:
Robber flies are not picky. The down side to their eclectic appetites is that they will dine indiscriminately on those insects we gardeners consider beneficial. The upside is that they eat harmful pests just as enthusiastically. Overall, robber flies are considered to play an important role in maintaining a healthy balance in our gardens.
Lots more information, and some way cool pictures about these insects here, here, and here.

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