Friendly fly (a.k.a. government fly or large flesh fly; Sarcophaga aldrichi); proboscis extended
Friendly fly (a.k.a. government fly or large flesh fly; Sarcophaga aldrichi)
I’ve unfortunately been too busy with work and last week too sick with the flu to do much walking at the lake, let alone to do much in the way of photography.
That vexes me, yes, but things could be worse: I could be unemployed. Now’s hardly the time to complain when it comes to being overworked and underpaid.
All the while, I’m back on call this week (what a familiar refrain that’s become). There’s no chance of getting out for more than a visit to the patio.
But the patio’s not at all bad considering where I live. So much life flourishes at White Rock Lake that living here makes it all but impossible to not see something of interest even if the length of my walk is from the living room to the back door.
A male house sparrow (Passer domesticus) perched in the tree is a familiar vision. A veritable horde of this species lives nearby, so they make for constant companions throughout the year.
But these are not brave birds, I’ve discovered.
A cardinal need only hiss to frighten the sparrows away, and even a Carolina wren can chase the sparrows off. Having seen both events recently as many species vied for a bit of the birdseed bounty I put out, I laughed each time: surprised to see a male cardinal be so forceful and shocked to see a tiny wren send the sparrows fleeing for their lives.
Northern mockingbirds (Mimus polyglottos) are as ubiquitous as they are fearless. When all other birds flee, at least one mockingbird will be around to keep an eye on things. When a predator moves in, at least one mockingbird will sound the alarm and launch the first assault. When other birds invade territory that somehow is sacred—nesting season or not, the mockingbirds sweep in and attack.
How beautiful their diverse repertoire of song, though. The other morning I thought one of the local monk parakeets had landed in my tree; the mockingbird offered a perfect copy of the bird’s sound. Only when it launched into a complete musical presentation full of various songs and sounds did I realize I had been fooled, and joyously so I will admit!
The friendly fly (a.k.a. government fly or large flesh fly; Sarcophaga aldrichi) looks like the common housefly; the only difference is that it’s noticeably larger than its pesky cousin.
In the midst of a winter that has been overly warm, I discovered this friendly fly grabbing a bit of sun on the patio fence. Hot enough for me to be in shorts and a tee shirt and quite to the fly’s liking, we spent a wee bit of time together as it warmed its wings.
They’re called friendly for a reason, you know.
Green anoles (Anolis carolinensis) began leaving hibernation in the middle of December. That worried me. A winter that wasn’t much of a winter provided enough warmth for the lizards to seek heat and nourishment. Only one of those commodities was in abundance.
The first anole I saw showed ribs through taught scales. Others who followed worried me with the same presentation.
As December gave way to January and the springlike winter continued, more insects showed up and the anoles filled their skins a bit more until finally they looked healthy again.
And notice how this one has matched the paint color on the fence. Chameleons change color to control body heat and to communicate. Anoles, on the other hand, change color to control body heat, to communicate and to act as camouflage. I’ve seen them match colors no chameleon could touch, and I’ve seen them do it with blazing speed and precision.
One of my neighbors enjoys the local Virginia opossums (a.k.a. possum; Didelphis virginiana) about as much as I do. She told me one day that someone walked by and saw her snapping photos in the dead of night—photos apparently focused on something quite mundane: a tree.
She was taking pictures of a juvenile opossum who’d climbed the tree in response to an approaching dog.
I do love opossums, love their personalities, their singular claim to being a marsupial in North America, their gentle dispositions, their methodical approach to movement that keenly hides an ability to move rather quickly when the need arises.
Finding this one early one evening as it enjoyed some of the cat food on the patio made for a pleasant discovery.
I absolutely adore Carolina wrens (Thryothorus ludovicianus). The busybodies of the bird world, they look like a bunch of Chatty Kathy dolls marching along beneath the shrubs as they gossip and bicker and jabber throughout their search for a bite to eat.
Like mockingbirds, they also lack the overwhelming fear of people that most species (should!) have. I can’t begin to count the number of times one has perched on the fence next to me or hopped on my foot as it made its way across the patio.
A gardening glove that blew in during a powerful wind storm provided the perfect scale as this one bopped along in speckled sunlight between the fence and the photinias. Not large at all, these wrens make up with attitude what they lack in size. How delectably enjoyable!
…to enjoy a bit of the natural world.
This weekend I have spent my time doing the on-call thing for work. Right now I feel drunk, although not from alcohol. From lack of sleep, yes.
I’ve had perhaps two hours of rest since five in the morning on Friday.
Needless to say, it’s been a hell of a weekend. And not in a good way.
Still, my want to take walks and snap photos suffers no lasting damage from such times, for it is with a great sense of gift that I can stand outside on my own patio and get a fix for my need.
Nature comes to me, you see.
Clance. For some time I thought I would never see his cross-eyed face again. He disappeared for more than a year with but one or two minor visits in early 2007. I hoped for the best and feared the worse: that he had been adopted and that he had died, respectively.
Then he suddenly reappeared maybe two months ago. Now he comes running when he sees me on the patio and he purrs and meows as he speaks to me with trust and affection. I’m thrilled to see he’s alright.
A male house sparrow (Passer domesticus). Whilst kneeling on the patio floor trying to snap photos of a lizard, I heard the tiniest bit of noise beside me, something much like a dry leaf rustling against an old log.
Slowly I turned and looked over my shoulder. There hardly an arm’s length from me perched this little bird. He clung to the fence and glanced about as though he’d lost something.
In truth, I put birdseed out every day. The sparrows join the cardinals, the blue jays, the mourning doves, the rock doves, the Carolina wrens and a litany of other species as they each vie for their bit of the bounty. My little sparrow friend probably wanted to make sure no threats lurked about before he dove to the ground for a bite to eat.
A friendly fly (a.k.a. government fly or large flesh fly; Sarcophaga aldrichi). It sat atop the patio fence soaking up sunshine. If I approached too closely, it scooted off in one direction or another, but it never flew away—at least not until it was ready to do so.
I enjoyed watching it, appreciating its behemoth size and dazzling contrast of colors. And the fact that it was so tolerant of me made it even better.
A male green anole (Anolis carolinensis). He spent a great deal of time challenging me as I stood and watched him climb down the tree rooted just outside the patio fence. Having been confronted by my share of anoles, I thought nothing of this contest save that it made for a good photo opportunity.
What I didn’t know would be discovered later. He defied me only because he meant to woo a lady of his kind who hid in the branches above him. Minutes later I returned to the patio and discovered his display had so impressed her that she had succumbed to his ways.
Yes, the two of them stood on the side of the tree and consummated their meeting in a public display of affection that would so offend James Dobson and his bigoted ilk that they—the lizards—likely would have found a new constitutional amendment being passed to stop reptile procreation altogether due to its immorality. But I found the exhibition mesmerizing and educating.
A rock dove (a.k.a. common pigeon; Columba livia). Ancestor of all pigeons, this species, despite the unwarranted disgust by many humans, brings a profound beauty to its surroundings. The iridescent feathers, the amber eyes, the tolerance for our ways and our places… Well, I find them intriguing and beguiling.
A Virginia opossum (a.k.a. possum; Didelphis virginiana). Part of the cleaning crew, in fact, as you can see this one readily went to work on the cat food I had just put out for Clance. After the cat had his fill, he walked away. That’s when, much to my surprise, this opossum scampered around the corner, ambled up to the table so to speak, and began munching away.
Oh, and the marsupial knew I was there. I knelt next to the fence only a yard/meter away, so every sound and movement I made set off alarm bells for this small juvenile (not as small as the baby, though). But I know something about them: their eyesight is relatively poor, although they can hear and smell like a top predator. Staying downwind of the little cutie and not making a lot of noise meant it only looked at me with suspicion if I moved too much or accidentally sounded my presence with some clumsy racket.
A male cicada-killer wasp (Sphecius speciosus). My favorite insect in all the world, and a most gentle and placid leviathan if ever there was one. The huge colony of these beasts that surrounds my home thrives only for a brief period before falling under the heels of time’s onward march. But during that short life they captivate me to no end, and they give of their calm nature the companionship made possible only by two disparate lives sharing a clear understanding: we can be friends.
— — — — — — — — — —
 Many would argue that domestic cats are not natural. I beg to differ. The wildcat who gave life to this species has been pushed to near extinction by humans. What can fill that ecological niche if not the very children of the parents put to death by the march of our intelligent advancement.
That said, I don’t like the idea of outside cats, I don’t like seeing them outside fending for themselves and being exposed to all manner of illness and danger, yet the humane side of me—the part of me that knows what it means to be human—likes even less the idea of seeing them go hungry and without compassion. I put lots of money into no-kill shelters each month in hopes that some of these lost souls will find a home; meanwhile, I have no intention of turning my back on them when I can afford to offer a meal, a bit of attention and friendship, and a kind soul to whom they can speak.
 Amazingly, this is not a macro shot. I stood some distance from the fly and zoomed in to take the picture.
 The photo is bad, I know, but I took it in very poor lighting and with the camera on the wrong settings. I was more intrigued and enthralled with the opossum than I was with making a piece of art. So sue me.
Little more than a month ago as I wandered the eastern shore of White Rock Lake on a gorgeous spring morning, I came across a familiar site.
Eastern tent caterpillars (Malacosoma americanum) had invaded a sapling and built a respectable web. Many of the ravenous beasts crawled along the small limbs while a few meandered about the outside of their silken tent. The true horde, though, remained inside.
As I took a closer look, I couldn’t help but find myself enthralled with the spectacular beauty of these larvae. Destructive though they may be, they offer a mesmerizing splash of colors and designs, a singular nod to nature’s fabulous handiwork.
I then forgot about the web and its inhabitants, and during subsequent walks I neither went back to check on them nor looked for additional colonies in other trees and other places.
Then yesterday I took special note of the growing abundance of a large fly, one of which kept visiting me on the patio in early evening.
After some investigation, I discovered this species is known as the friendly fly (a.k.a. government fly or large flesh fly; Sarcophaga aldrichi). And it’s a predator or, to be more precise, a parasitoid.
Friendly flies are the single most important biological control mechanism for tent caterpillars. Adult flies deposit live maggots on tent caterpillar cocoons, after which the maggots bore into the cocoons and feed on the pupating larvae. This means the fly population grows only as the caterpillar population shrinks (or grows, depending on how you look at it), and a large outbreak of tent caterpillars means a subsequent increase in friendly flies. Or so one would hope.
My fascination with the fly stemmed entirely from my fascination with insects, so it was only later that I realized the buzzing buddy really was a friend. Non-biting and a pest only insofar as it swarms and lands on anything—like people and food—these large insects annoy us only because their numbers grow in direct relation to the service they provide: control of a defoliating monster that can cause significant damage.
[of special interest is that none of the fly images are macro shots]