Pollinators & Predators

Bellaire Woods Nature Preserve, a 52.4-acre third-growth forest protected and maintained by the Lancaster County Conservancy, is one of my favorite places to photograph Pennsylvania's spring ephemeral wildflowers.

Although I adore the delicate hepatica, shy bloodroot and graceful trout lily, insects fascinate me. While visiting the tadpole pond in Bellaire recently I observed one of my most favorite aquatic insects - the Lesser Diving Beetle (Acilius sulcatus).

Small Flat Diving Beetle | Bellaire Woods Nature Preserve | © 2015 Jessica Allen

The darting and diving of this little beetle is endlessly amusing. Not to mention...it's beautiful! Despite being adorable, a diving beetle is a predator. It wasn't until I reviewed my photo of the beetle shown above that I recognized he was in pursuit of a tiny insect that had landed on the surface of the pool.

To learn more about this fascinating beetle, visit the wonderful website, Life in Freshwater.

The large bee fly (Bombylius major) is another funny little creature I discovered in the spring woods of Bellaire. This ridiculously fuzzy creature is a bee mimic. In this case, mimicry means he looks, flies and buzzes like a bee.

You might be wondering why an insect might evolve to mimic another insect; in this case, the bee fly uses her bee-ness, to get close to the larvae of beetles, as well as solitary wasps and bees. The female flicks her own eggs into the entrance hole of other species (like the cowbird laying her eggs in another bird's nest...except for this part...) When the bee fly's eggs hatch, her larvae feed on the grubs of the true owner of the nest!

Though responsible for reducing the populations of countless beetles, solitary bees and wasps, the bee fly is not all bad - this fuzzy little nest robber is a productive pollinator. 

Large Bee Fly (Bombylius major) | Bellaire Woods Nature Preserve | © 2015 Jessica Allen

Speaking of pollinators, I have a bit of a crush on the hover fly. Hover flies, or Syrphid flies, look like really big wasps or bees. In fact, they can appear rather menacing at first glance! I discovered my first hover fly on a big white daisy growing in a meadow.

When I began to learn more about this beneficial pollinator, I started noticing them all over the place -- meadows, forests and of course, in my own backyard. When I spotted the hover fly below he was resting atop a mayapple. 

Syrphid Fly | Bellaire Woods Nature Preserve | © 2015 Jessica Allen

Adult hover flies feed on nectar and pollen. They do not bite, nor do they sting. Hover flies are in fact, incredibly beneficial. The adults are productive pollinators and the larvae feed on aphid pests - farmers have even been known to purchase hover fly larvae to help control aphid infestations. See? I told you insects are fascinating.