Monday, January 30, 2017

Robber Flies

I took this series of photos one afternoon about six months ago during a time when I was experiencing internet connectivity problems.  The file has been stuck in my blog folder since then, along with several others.  I deleted the others, but I am such a fan of Robber Flies that I just had to make this post.  Resting on a leaf about half way down into the canopy of an herbaceous border sits this Diogmites species. 

Robber Flies are predators.  They spend much of their time sitting where they can watch for passing flying insects. I enjoy watching this species because its head is so mobile. It swivels its head in the direction of even the slightest bit of movement, which at some point always includes the photographer.

This slightly larger member of the Robber Fly group is a representative of the genus Efferia.  It came to rest on my hand while I was working in the field, which I hope does not give anyone the impression that I move so slowly while working that animals find me a convenient perch.  The end of the abdomen tapers down into an almost sword like appendage. Although it looks to be a formidable weapon, it is used as a tool for laying eggs deep into flower heads or other locations deemed suitable for growth of the larvae.

This is Promachus hinei.  Although it’s not the most common in terms of total Robber Fly numbers at Blue Jay Barrens, it is the most commonly encountered species of Robber Fly. Because of their large size and noisy flight, they are hard to miss when you happen upon them in the field. On this particular day, almost every individual I found was busily feeding, and several were feeding on somewhat unusual items like this paper wasp. When hunting, Robber Flies launch from a perch, grab an insect from the air, and return to a perch to consume their prey. The Robber Fly’s first action after a catch is to insert its piercing mouthparts into the body of the captured insect and inject a chemical relaxant that attacks the nerves and calms the prey. Along with the nerve agent is an enzyme that liquefies the internal body of the insect, so the robber fly can drink its meal.

To some, this may look like a love embrace. Unfortunately, that fly giving the big hug is not moving in for a friendly cuddle. 

These big flies will take any prey they can handle, even if it’s their own species.  That’s a male of the species making a meal of a female.  You can see his piercing mouthparts just below his front leg in a direct line with the grass stem beside his head. I hope next summer is another bumper season for Robber Flies.

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