the Margined Calligrapher

With a fancy name like Margined Calligrapher, you would never guess I was talking about a little flower fly, less than a half inch long.  But this minute insect is one of the most numerous ones in your garden right now.

Minuscule flower flies are dwarfed by even the tiny fleabane flowers whose pollen they may be consuming.

The “margined” part of its name derives from the yellow line that outlines the pattern on its abdomen.  This tiny female, identified by the gap between her eyes, is feeding on peony pollen.

Flower flies derive their name from their ubiquitous presence on flower heads as the adults seek nectar and pollen, but they are also called hover flies for their habit of hovering in mid-air, or Syrphid flies because they belong to that large subfamily.

A male calligrapher fly, identified by eyes adjacent to one another, pauses on a peony petal, perhaps searching for a female.

Their yellow and black coloration mimics that of bees, and perhaps they get some protection from predation from that mimicry, but they are far smaller than even the smallest honeybees, they have only one pair of wings, not two as all bees do, and they have short, stubby antennae, again unlike the longer ropey antennae of bees.

It’s mating time for these flies which have recently emerged from a long winter hibernation as adults or mature larvae. Females will lay a single egg on leaves of a plant that is infested with aphids, scale insects, or thrips which the larvae will then consume as they grow.

Although the eye colors of the two sexes look different in the photo, they really aren’t. Compare the male (on top) eye color in this photo to the one above.

Syrphid larva consuming an aphid. Photo from Ohioline.osu.edu, by David Cappaert.

So, not only do adult flower flies perform a pollinating service for the flowers in your garden, their carnivorous larvae perform a check on the pests (like aphids) that attack your garden plants!

This particular species of flower fly, Toxomerus marginatus, can be found almost everywhere in the U.S. except mountainous regions and Alaska, and has even made it to Hawaii.  There are numerous Toxomerus species, each with a distinctive pattern of yellow and black on the abdomen, so if you see these bee mimics in your garden and wonder what they are, here’s a handy reference page (with photos) of some of the more common U.S. species,

Eastern Calligrapher, from iNaturalist.org

https://www.inaturalist.org/posts/14985-identifying-toxomerus-hoverflies

3 thoughts on “the Margined Calligrapher

  1. Just what I was looking for…love these little beauties! I am a retired science teacher, so have been busy photographing them, and want to learn more. Thanks.

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