When flies want to be something else

At the behest of nathalie with an h, I headed across the blogosphere to help Nezza with an insect question.

She had photographed what at first looked pretty much like a bee, nice and plump and buzzing about and doing all things with a very bee-like demeanor and display.  But looks can be deceiving, especially when it comes to flies.

What Nezza photographed happens to be either a bee fly or a syrphid fly.  Masters of disguise even as lower order insects go, this diverse group of creatures has filled every possible niche of mimicry imaginable—and especially when it comes to looking like higher order insects like ants, wasps and bees.

A bee killer (a.k.a. robber fly or asilid fly; Mallophora fautrix) perched on a blade of grass (20080726_10085)

Called a bee killer (a.k.a. robber fly or asilid fly; Mallophora fautrix), this happens to be a predator that will attack any flying insect.  It isn’t as large as the giant robber fly (Promachus hinei) I posted a few weeks ago, but the bee killer is just as bold in that it will chase anything it thinks it can overpower.

A hover fly (a.k.a. syrphid fly; unidentified) perched on a blade of grass (20080726_10086)

Hover flies (a.k.a. syrphid flies; unidentified) cover a lot of territory when it comes to looking like anything but a fly.  Although completely harmless, they perfectly impersonate some of the most troublesome stingers: bumble bees, yellow jackets and hornets to name a few.

As I explained to Nezza, flies can’t hide their identities despite their best efforts to look like another species.  As all flies go, they still only have one pair of wings (bees, wasps, dragonflies and all other higher-order insects have two pairs).  Flies of this sort also have short antennae (not true of all flies, but true of the suborder Brachycera that happens to include most flies; members of the suborder Nematocera, which includes crane flies, gnats, mosquitoes and midges, have longer antennae).

This also brings to mind a recent experience with xocobra as he pointed out the abundance of flying ants around his house.  While standing in the garage enjoying a cold adult beverage and camaraderie, one such menace flitted by and landed atop the hood of one of the cars.  He immediately pointed it out and noted it came from the same species of ant to which he had referred.

But it was no ant at all; it was a fly.  More specifically, it was a type of picture-winged fly in the genus Delphinia (probably Delphinia picta, although I only saw it briefly).  Looking very much like a winged ant in color and shape, I couldn’t blame him for letting his eyes state what seemed terribly obvious.

The next time you see a bee or wasp or dragonfly or ant, ponder for a moment if you are seeing what you think you are seeing.  It’s quite possible—and in many ways probable—that you are looking at a member of the order Diptera, a true fly, and you happen to be graced with viewing the splendid diversity of mimicry that exists in these primitive creatures.

I can’t blame him at all

I hope Mom will forgive me for publishing this.  It’s something I felt worth saying, yet I knew her words communicated the truth far better than I could…

I intend to visit the family farm this weekend.  It’s the first opportunity I’ve had in months given my hectic work schedule (every other weekend on call and every week with a full plate).

After sending her an e-mail saying as much and asking how she and Dad were doing, this is the reply I received:

C’mon….we will be delighted to see you. Things are going here. Your father is sick just about every day. […] He would have to have lots of tests to determine the cause and he doesn’t want to go there. I figure if things get bad enough he will give in, but he’s been so physically miserable for so long he really doesn’t relish more medical treatments to prolong his agony. Can’t say I blame him. When I look into his haunted pain filled eyes I can’t blame him at all.

We just went through the whole tumor saga.  For years prior to that, he’s been on medications galore to treat all sorts of ailments: chronic acute cellulitis in the legs that can kill him if released into the bloodstream, blood pressure and clot issues, and a menagerie of other problems.

Truth be told, I’m with Mom on this one.  I sincerely and unequivocally trust in one absolute adage in such cases: Quality is far more important than quantity.

If my life is to be measured, let it be measured by joy, by love, by value, by worth.  Don’t let it be measured by the number of years I lived.

Should I suffer a decade of painful, degrading, inhumane survival that scarcely deserves the name ‘living’ or should I enjoy a year or two of memorable, blessed, wonderful moments wherein I can truly be called alive?

Don’t go near the water

For nathalie with an h who proclaimed after my last snake post that she would never again go near the water at White Rock Lake…

A fools errand.  That’s how this morning’s walk felt.  I decided to venture to the western shores for a change of scenery.

That would only be wise in cooler weather and later in the day.  As it was, it put me at a major disadvantage considering anything on or near the lake that caught my attention required me to face into the morning sun, scorching brightness still low on the horizon and blinding me at every turn.

Now I remember why I don’t go there for morning walks…

And it’s summer.  In Texas.  Standing in direct sunshine this time of year is begging for misery.  The sweat pouring from every part of my body kept that thought at the forefront of my mind.

Yet despite the terrible conditions of being hot as hell and unable to see much of anything, let alone photograph it, I did find a nice surprise this morning that deserves attention.

A diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) sunning on a log (20080726_09969)

Perched atop a log trying to grab some warmth before beginning its day, this diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) never flinched when passersby thronged to my position to see what I had discovered.  Fortunately for the reptile, no one could get close enough to pose a real threat—although I doubt all the pointing and yelping about snakes and other goings on helped it to relax.

A diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) sunning on a log (20080726_09956)

Only a yard/a meter long yet still an adult, this species can grow to almost twice that size, although it seems more common for them to average around the size of this morning’s example.  What I would consider a small snake still caused a great deal of commotion amongst those who set eyes upon it, including the assumption that because I was photographing it, I must be an expert, something that led to the ubiquitous and expected question: “Is that a water moccasin?”[1][3]

A diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) sunning on a log (20080726_09997)

Had it been a cottonmouth (what most people mean when they use the term ‘water moccasin’)[4], it would have earned its name by displaying the brilliant white inside of its mouth as a warning for us to stay away (we were at least close enough for that response).  No such display was forthcoming though, for this happened to be something more common yet less dangerous than a cottonmouth.

This species has no venom, although the entire line of water snakes do have rather quarrelsome personalities.  To prove it, the diamondback water snake first resorts to emitting a foul odor with excrement.

If that doesn’t frighten you away, then it will bite.  I assure you that will hurt as their teeth are designed to grab and hold slippery prey, meaning they will tear flesh due in no small part to the backward-facing orientation of their teeth.  But once the bleeding stops, the danger has passed.

A diamondback water snake (Nerodia rhombifer) sunning on a log (20080726_10072)

Beautiful and enticing as all serpents are, I returned a few hours later to see if the snake could still be found.  Indeed, it had only turned around a bit so sunshine could hit the other side, but otherwise it remained right where it had been all morning.

Thankfully, I noticed few saw the creature unless someone was already there and entranced by it.  I paused only briefly to snap that photo, then I walked to the far end of the bridge and watched from a safe and discreet distance.

Of the few dozen people who passed by that spot while I stood vigil, none saw the reptile.  That made me happy for once, that no one noticed, for people generally become dangerous when confronted with a snake, especially a water snake.  Letting it be in peace so it could go on about the business of its day seemed a far better alternative to the inevitable violence that would ensue if more people had seen it.

— — — — — — — — — —

[1] Correct me if I’m wrong, but why is it that someone with a camera somehow becomes the available expert under such circumstances?  I’m tickled on a regular basis by those who ask me such questions, as though I obviously know since I have a camera in my hand and took notice of whatever intriguing thing begs the question.[2]

[2] Okay, I admit it’s likely under most circumstances that I know the answer, but that’s just because I’m such a nerd about these things.  I want to know.  I want to understand.  I want to appreciate.  That’s not true of everyone with a camera though, so what’s the deal?

[3] The most common misidentification of snakes stems from most people assuming any serpent in the water is a cottonmouth.  Nonvenomous water snakes are far more common yet suffer the plague of unnecessary death in no small part because people assume any swimming snake is a cottonmouth.  I wish I could change this.

[4] Ugh!  I’ve never seen a water moccasin in my life.  Know why?  They don’t technically exist.  It’s actually a colloquialism of some kind (stemming from a book published in the 19th century).  Truth be told, “water moccasin” is a generic name used for pretty much any snake in the water.  The venomous one you need to watch out for is a cottonmouth, a pit viper and the only poisonous water snake in North America.[5]

[5] Because cottonmouths are quite rare when compared to the nonvenomous water snakes that most people see, the statistical truth is that you are unlikely to see a poisonous water snake when compared to the likelihood of seeing a harmless one.  Almost all sightings in North America are of water snakes and, therefore, of harmless reptiles.

Bumbles and buttons

As alluring as an aphrodisiac, I find myself drawn to this plant each time I walk the eastern shore of White Rock Lake south of Sunset Bay.  Only within a few steps does its presence grab the senses by sight and smell, a visual and olfactory pheromone as sweet to the eyes and nose as honey is to the tongue.

All about its location near the water rests a fog of enticement that can be tasted as easily as it is smelled.  The eyes simply draw one in, rest one from disregard to enjoyment, and all the while scent chains one to a position near what can only be described as a song tempting awareness with bait of beauty and beguilement.

And the bumble bees seem to think likewise.

A brownbelted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis) hanging on the side of a buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower (20080713_09648)

The plant is called a buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).  Its aroma strikes me as unmistakable and unavoidable.

Two brownbelted bumble bees (Bombus griseocollis) flying toward a group of buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flowers (20080713_09647)

Brownbelted bumble bees (Bombus griseocollis) surround it during this visit, although previous calls on this place seem to include other species, albeit that assumption is unverified at present.

A brownbelted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis) landing atop a buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) flower (20080713_09646)

Nevertheless, I always find this plant virtually covered with bumble bees, each flitting about from flower to flower, each busy with the accumulation of pollen.

Having savored this magnificent plant with every sense my body offers, I know why they claim it for their own, savor it in every way, cover it daily with their intent.  Bewitching understates its magic.

Chasing my own tail is tiring!

al-Zill lying beside the bed as he yawns (20080621_07329)

al-Zill has discovered his own tail.  This results in some rather entertaining chase scenes.

I’ve yet to capture any photos of the fun since I usually know it’s happening only when he bounces off a wall or runs into something; then when I get up to investigate, he stops.

But the fun he has lends itself to some extremely hilarious escapades.

He becomes enthralled with trying to catch his tail and even tries sneaking up on it.  This includes crouching down and peeking over his own shoulder as he watches it twitch from side to side.

He gives a little butt shake as cats are wont to do when hunting, then he makes the leap and tumbles in a spiral of uncontrolled folly.

This can go on for several minutes before something else catches his attention, be it hunger or thirst or a toy or another cat—or me.

And on the subject of al-Zill…

His neurological problems have diminished greatly since I rescued him.  They’re not gone, mind you, but they’re better.

Still, when I’ve been holding him and move to put him down, he becomes like jelly and sometimes falls while trying to gain his footing.  From time to time he has problems trying to run or walk.  He even falls over or off of things every now and then, and I don’t mean in the normal way felines do these things.

He’s still making progress, however, and I think being in a stable environment with good care and food has helped him.

According to the vets, he will never be free of this plague, never be fully sure of what his body will do in response to the sometimes chaotic and random messages his mind sends out.

At least I know he’s no longer threatened by the dangers of being outside under such conditions.