Staff Pollinator Picks #7 and 8
Everybody probably has a favorite insect. We thought it would be fun to ask our pollinator staff to suggest their favorite pollinator. With so many pollinators to choose from, it gives a glimpse into the diversity that’s out there waiting to be watched and enjoyed. Here are two more of their picks.
Syrphid fly (Toxomerus marginatus)
Kelly Gill, Pollinator Conservation Specialist, Northeast/Mid-Atlantic Region
We all know that bees are superior pollinators, but bees share the work with other pollinating insects, including syrphid flies. Many species of syrphid files are adorned with colors and patterns that mimic bees, but they are true flies in the order Diptera. Syrphid flies are easily recognized by their ability to hold a seemingly motionless position in the air as they hover over flowers (hence their other name of hover fly). From the soybean fields of Iowa to forest edges of Pennsylvania, I can be sure to find my favorite syrphid fly, Toxomerus marginatus, visiting flowers throughout the season.
This is one of the smaller syrphid flies (0.25–0.5 inch; 5–10 mm) and can easily be overlooked. It is a widely distributed species that feeds on a variety of flowers in the adult stage and is a good pollinator of carrot, dill, and other umbel flowers. The added bonus to attracting syrphid flies to your farm, garden, and yard is that many species are predatory in the immature stage. Toxomerus marginatus larvae will preferentially gorge themselves on soft-bodied pest insects such as aphids, thrips, scales, mealybugs, and spider mites. In fact, the larvae are such voracious predators that they can consume as many as 50 aphids per day!
To attract syrphid flies, plant a variety of flowering native plants including spiderwort, goldenrod, and mountain mints. Nonnative species attractive to syrphid flies include sweet alyssum, coriander, fennel, and mustards and can be for used for companion planting or inter-planting between vegetable crops. As you are observing your favorite flowering plants this summer, see if you can spot a syrphid fly hovering about (hint: flies have a single pair of wings, while bees and wasps have two pair).
Mining bee (Andrena carolina)
Emily May, Pollinator Conservation Specialist (Project ICP)
There are hundreds of species of mining bees, which are typically active early in the year. This one is a specialist on blueberry (Vaccinium sp.) in eastern North America. It has been recorded from Minnesota to the Atlantic coast and as far south as Alabama. Its flight season is tightly linked with its spring-blooming host plants. Next time you eat a blueberry, you can thank Andrena carolina and other wild pollinators for your sweet treat, along with the managed honey bee.