Museum Scientists Discover Very Rare Flower Fly in Los Angeles!

January 10, 2017

The Museum's Nature Gardens continue to be the gift that keeps on giving by providing precious habitat to wildlife living in the urban core of LA. Last November, we not only had our second alligator lizard sighting, but we also uncovered a rarely seen flower fly from our Malaise trap that collects insects as part of the BioSCAN project. This project has examined over 2,000 flower fly specimens representing 35 species in LA so far, but this rare fly from the garden, Myolepta cornelia, is the only one we have seen so far!

Rare Myolepta cornellia spotted feeding on flowers in the Fullerton Arboretum. Used with permission by photographer Ron Hemberger. 

Before you dismiss this finding as “just another fly,” take a minute to ponder the many talents of these mini-marvels. Faster than a hummingbird, clocking in at 250 wing beats per second (!!!), flower flies spend their day revelling in the garden’s floral buffet. They can fly backwards as easily as they do forwards, or can be spotted hovering perfectly still in mid air, like little meditating, levitating yogis. Just like the beloved bee, they pollinate the flowers they feed upon. In fact, as hymenopteran (the bee, wasp, and ant group) mimics many are mistaken for a wasp or a bee, a trait that offers protection from potential predators.

Flower flies are incredibly diverse! From left to right, top to bottom: Syritta pipiens, Eristalinus taeniops, Orthonevra flukei, Rat-tailed larva, Copestylum marginatum, and Chrysotoxum sp. Photo credit: Kelsey Bailey.

 

Their ecological importance does not end there. As wee little fly babies (the maggot or larval stage, in other words), they act as beneficial predators or decomposers, depending on the species. The activity of the larva of our rare special fly M. cornelia is still a mystery to entomologists! We know that many of their close relatives feed on rotting wood in the larval stage and have a preference for oak woodlands, so it is possible that M. cornelia is helping to break down dead wood in the Nature Gardens.

Myolepta cornelia headshot, photo by Lisa Gonzalez

Special thanks to Jim Hogue and Martin Hauser for their identification skills and syrphid fly insight!

Resources:

Brown, Brian, James N Hogue and F. Christian Thompson. "Flower Flies of Los Angeles County". Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. 2011.

Reemer, Menno, Martin Hauser and Martin C. D. Speight. "The genus Myolepta Newman in the West-Palaearctic region (Diptera, Syrphidae)." Studia dipterologica 11 (2004) Heft 2: 553-580.    

(Posted by: Lisa Gonzalez)


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There are over 150,000 species of flies in the world! Most visitors who come to the Museum can name only a few of these flies (house fly, horse fly, or mosquito for examples) and many hold the belief that we would be better off without flies in our world. On Wednesday, January 18, we found a fly that I am sure will help you realize that all flies can't be cast as "bad" characters I introduce the humble aphid eating flower fly, Eupeodes volucris.

Female Eupeodes volucrisPhoto taken by Jerry FriedmanWhy do people like these flies and not others? This isn't an easy question to answer, but I'll have a go... First of all, these flies eat aphids and as any gardener will tell you, aphids are a serious garden pest. Secondly, they belong to a family of flies known as flower flies so called for their proclivity to visit flowers and suck down nectar. Thereby they play a role in pollination. Finally, if you look closely at these small flies you'll see why a lot of geeky people, like myself, think they are quite beautiful. Not only are they brightly colored and highly patterned, when their eyes catch the sunlight just right they have an iridescent sheen! Although I might add that E. volucris isn't as flashy as its close relative, the aptly named stripe-eyed flower fly, Eristalinus taeniops, also a native to the Los Angeles area.

Stripe-eyed flower flyPhoto courtesy of What's That Bug websiteHow does a fly eat an aphid? It is actually the larval stage of the fly, or maggot that chows down on aphids. Much like immature ladybugs they trawl through a sea of aphids on a plant and chomp any that get in their way!  Though they don't have quite the same look as a ladybug! 

Flower fly maggots eating oleander aphidsPhoto courtesy of What's That Bug websiteTo find out more our local flower flies, swing by the Museum gift shop to get a copy of our latest entomological publication, Flower Flies of Los Angeles County.

Flower Flies of Los Angeles County

Thanks to Brian Brown and Jim Hogue for supplying fly information and identifying the fly specimen.


(Posted by: Lila Higgins)

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