Wednesday, August 7, 2013

A Funky Fly, a Cool Caterpillar and a Miniature Mantidfly

It's been a good summer for finding insects that aren't necessarily uncommon but one doesn't encounter very often, such as this offbeat fly with its long antennae, pointy proboscis and hunched back. Photographed at the Menzel Centennial Nature Reserve northwest of Napanee, as its appearance suggests it is indeed a Beefly, family Bombyliidae, genus Lepidophora. And according to this key by the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification there is only one member of this genus in Ontario – Lepidophora lutea.

More commonly known as a Scaly Bee Fly or Hunchback Beefly, the adults eat nectar but the larvae are kleptoparasites of Vespid and Sphecid wasps, eating the contents of the cells.

The lime green larva of the Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes) is about the length of a pinky finger and it stands out like a sore thumb in a photo. But it's quite nicely camouflaged when hidden on its host plants, members of the Carrot family such as Dill, Fennel or in this example Queen Anne's Lace. This looks like a fourth instar caterpillar and should be ready to pupate soon.

To ensure getting a picture of an adult butterfly rather than a wasp it's best to capture and raise the caterpillar, as swallowtail larvae are often parasitized by ichneumonids such as Trogus pennator. The wasp lays its egg inside the caterpillar, and the wasp larva matures within the caterpillar, allowing it to pupate before eventually killing it. Is this one visiting the Queen Anne's Lace for a drink of nectar, or hunting at the most likely site to find a victim?

A friend found this small Mantidfly – looks like Dicromantispa sayi – on her flowers near Lost Channel Road. With a length of about 12 to 13 mm, it's only about half the size of its paper wasp mimicking cousin Climaciella brunnea.

Mantidfly adults are predacious but before attaining adulthood they undergo hypermetamorphosis, a process explained in detail in a fascinating article appropriately titled "Mantidflies: Chimeras of the Insect World" at Life, et al. And according to the fossil record Mantidflies were already masters of their bizarre lifestyle at least 44 million years ago ... Spider-boarding Insect preserved in Amber.