Category Archives: Flies

Weeds and Wildflowers = More Avocados!

One of my favourite plants (after cacao that produces chocolate!) is the avocado. They are one of the most delicious and nutritious fruits around…

Mmmmm… tasty avocado!

Mmmmm… tasty avocado!

Avocado trees are one of the many different crops that depend on wild insects pollinators. I recently spent some time in the Kerio Valley looking at the insects visiting the avocado flowers.

Here are what the avocado flowers look like:

Avocado flowers awaiting their appointment with a pollinator...

Avocado flowers awaiting their appointment with a pollinator…

The pollinators of avocado on this small farm in northwestern Kenya were mainly different kinds of flies and honeybees.

An unidentified fly visits some avocado flowers

An unidentified fly visits some avocado flowers

House flies and some smaller flies on Avocado flowers

House flies and some smaller flies on Avocado flowers

Copper-tailed Blowfly on avocado flowers (a major pollinator at this site)

Copper-tailed Blowfly on avocado flowers (a major pollinator at this site)

After pollinating visits by several different flies, the avocado flower is pollinated and a young fruit begins to form.

Newly pollinated flower with ovary swelling to form young fruit

Newly pollinated flower with ovary swelling to form young fruit

They develop over several months into the wonderful fruits that we so enjoy:

Developing avocado fruit - they stay on the trees for quite a long time.

Developing avocado fruit – they stay on the trees for quite a long time.

Honeybees were also visiting the avocado flowers and pollinating them too:

Hard-working honeybee on avocado flower

Hard-working honeybee on avocado flower

One of the key things we’ve learned about pollinators is that they depend on a wide range of plants for their own survival.

While crops are only in flower for a short period of time, bees and flies need to eat from a wide range of different wildflowers. Without these plants, the bees, flies and other pollinators would not be able to survive. This would result in far fewer avocados and poor or low yields on the crops that depend on pollinators. Some of the plants that the bees and flies depend on at this site are considered weeds. These weeds, including the infamous ‘Black-Jack’ (Bidens pilosa) are actually an important resource for wild insects pollinators.

Honeybee sips nectar from a 'Black-Jack' flower

Honeybee sips nectar from a ‘Black-Jack’ flower

Weeds can be an important resource for bees...

Weeds can be an important resource for bees…

Weeds and wildflowers growing around the farm are essential in order to support healthy wild insect pollinators.

At this small farm near Iten, there were lots of different flowers growing along the edges of the farm, including this lovely, scrambling yellow-flowered creeper in the Daisy Family (Asteraceae). Several of the avocado pollinators could be found visiting the flowering creeper later in the day after they had been pollinating the avocado flowers.

Wildflowers are important for wild insect pollinators

Wildflowers are important for wild insect pollinators

Honeybee visiting the flowering creeper

Honeybee visiting the flowering creeper

This is why it is important to have diversity in the farming landscape, like here in Kenya’s beautiful Kerio Valley.

More wildflowers and weeds around the farm support more pollinators that produce higher yields!

Wildflowers are important for pollinators

Wildflowers are important for pollinators

More from the wonderful world of bugs soon!

Please think of the pollinators when you next enjoy an avocado!

A few wonderful ‘Dudus’…

In honour of World Environment Day, here are a few amazing insects from the rainforest in Western Kenya to remind us of the incredible and wonderful creatures that we share this planet with…

I’ve been travelling around Kenya for the past few weeks, and here are some of the strange and fascinating creatures I came across.

One of the most beautiful of all African insects are the jewel damselflies, such as this Dancing Jewel found along the banks of the Yala River:

Dancing Jewel Damsefly

Dancing Jewel Damsefly

 

Among the many gorgeous butterflies in the rain forests of Western Kenya are the Charaxes, or Emperor Butterflies. They fly high and fast through the forest canopy, but can’t resist the lure of fresh dung to feast on! Many Charaxes butterflies have the most beautifully intricate patterns on the undersides of their wings, like this Giant Charaxes (Charaxes castor).

King Charaxes butterfly feasting on fresh dung!

Giant Charaxes butterfly feasting on fresh dung!

 

Some Charaxes species have the most intense colours on their wings, as can be seen here in this Blue-Spotted Charaxes, flashing its wings in the sunlight:

Blue-Spotted Charaxes Butterfly

Blue-Spotted Charaxes Butterfly

 

Even the fruit flies in the forest are colourful, as can be seen here with these Drosophila on some rotting fruit:

Feisty fiery-eyed Fruit Flies!

Feisty fiery-eyed Fruit Flies!

 

The beetles are not to be outdone with this amazing metallic tortoise beetle:

 

Silver Tortoise Beetle

Silver Tortoise Beetle

 

More from the wonderful world of bugs soon! Happy World Environment Day!

 

 

Celebrating Pollinators: Pollinator Conservation Handbook Launched!

Dear All

Many greetings.

Am very pleased to share with you a book featuring and celebrating pollinator diversity in East Africa.

You can download the book through link by clicking on the cover image below:

Our Friends The Pollinators!

Click on image above to go to the page where you can download the book

 

To whet your appetite here’s a sneak preview of some of the pages from the book:

pollinator-handbook-preview1

 

Pages from 'Our Friends The Pollinators: A Handbook of Pollinator Diversity and Conservation in East Africa'

Pages from ‘Our Friends The Pollinators: A Handbook of Pollinator Diversity and Conservation in East Africa’

You can download the book freely from this link:

http://discoverpollinators.org/pollinators/pollinator-handbook/

Please share this link and enjoy the beauty and wonder of East Africa’s pollinators!

(PS – if you are unable to download it from the link, please send an email to [email protected], and we will send you a soft copy).

Rainforest Birds and Bees…

Dear All

I have been exploring the Kakamega Forest in Western Kenya over the last few days. The forest is sparkling with life after the heavy rains from earlier this month. It has been wonderful taking long quiet walks in the forest to look at insects and birds and ponder the meaning of life.

Here are a few of the weird and wonderful creatures that I came across…

Arriving at the forest in late afternoon, these gorgeous Blue-Headed Bee Eaters were sunning themselves after bathing in a rainforest pool:

A pair of Blue-Headed Bee Eaters

A pair of Blue-Headed Bee Eaters

Bees and butterflies were visiting flowers along the trails in the forest.

Brown Pansy Butterfly

Brown Pansy Butterfly

 

There were a lot of bees around, including this strange wasp-like bee (I think that it is a species of bee in the family Colletidae):

Wasp or Wasp-like Bee?

Wasp or Wasp-like Bee?

 

Predators also lay in wait on the flowers in the forest.

This Stingless Bee was one of the unlucky ones…

Plebeina Stingless Bee falls victim to a spider

Plebeina Stingless Bee falls victim to a spider

 

Further down the path troop of monkeys crashed through the treetops leaving behind a ‘gift’ that immediately attracted some wonderful flies. One of the first contenders to appear was this striking Flesh Fly (Sarcophagidae)…

Flesh Fly feasts on fresh dung

Flesh Fly feasts on fresh dung

 

The scent of the fresh dung wafted through the forest air drawing different kinds of flies close. A Black Scavenger Fly perched on a leaf nearby:

Black Scavenger Fly

Black Scavenger Fly

 

While some came for the prospect of a meal, others were drawn to the area with different hopes. The female Black Scavenger Fly was soon joined by a smaller male on the same leaf. At first she ignored him, but he waved his wings with passion at her:

Black Scavenger Flies (male on top left)

Black Scavenger Flies (male on top left)

 

No surprises as to what he tried to do next:

"Do you think I'm sexy?"

“Do you think I’m sexy?”

He met with some, albeit brief, success:

Black Scavenger Flies

Black Scavenger Flies

 

The antics were watched by other flies, like this ‘Zebra Fly’ (actually a Root Maggot Fly), from nearby leaves:

"Zebra Fly" (Root Maggot Fly)

“Zebra Fly” (Root Maggot Fly)

 

Further along the trail was one of the most incredible fly-mimics that live in this forest. Resting on a fallen tree trunk I spotted a large black ‘bee’, that turned out to be a rarely-encountered Mydas Fly!

Robber Fly that mimics a Carpenter Bee

The marvelous Mydas Fly

Mydas Flies are rarely see as adults as they live only a few days in this stage but spend most of their lives as larvae preying on other insect larvae. It is simply amazing that no matter how many times I walk through the rainforest, I always find something new and interesting.

I walked back down along a road through the forest and found this lovely Clear-wing Acraea Butterfly basking in the evening sunshine:

Clear-wing Acraea Butterfly

Clear-wing Acraea Butterfly

 

Here’s to a New Year filled with joy and wonder…

Remember to spend a few minutes in the company of insects and other creatures when you can!

On the summit of Lirandha Hill, Kakamega Forest

On the summit of Lirandha Hill, Kakamega Forest

More from the wonderful world of bugs soon!

Kerio Valley Bees (and a fly)

Hello – just spent a lovely day looking at bees in the Kerio Valley (one of my favourite parts of the world!). An extension of the Great Rift Valley in northwestern Kenya, the Kerio Valley is a beautiful and diverse landscape that is especially rich in bees.

The Kerio Valley is also home to a large number of small-scale farmers who rely on subsistence agriculture to support their families. Many of the crops grown in the region are dependent on pollinators and it is an area where I have been looking at pollinator diversity and the interface of agriculture and biodiversity for some years.

View from Iten looking down into the Kerio Valley

View from Iten looking down into the Kerio Valley

 

Here are a few of the bees that I encountered while walking around the farms on the floor of the valley near Biretwo.

Early in the morning the Morning Glories (Ipomoea) were in full bloom and peering into one of their deep dark hearts I found a Macrogalea bee hiding in the bottom of the floral tube.

Macrogalea bee in an Ipomoea flower

Macrogalea bee in an Ipomoea flower

The bee seemed to be struggling and as it emerged into the sunlight I could see why: it was overloaded with the flowers’ sticky pollen and could barely move!

Macrogalea_Ipomoea-LR12

 

Overloaded with pollen!

Overloaded with pollen!

 

Nearby there were some yellow flowers blooming and they were being thoroughly ‘worked’ by a small bee in the Leafcutter Bee family (Megachilidae). Each bee landed on the flower and then circled it in an anti-clockwise direction while packing pollen into the special ‘scopa’ (pollen carrying region) on the underside of its’ abdomen.

Combing pollen from its' face!

Combing pollen from its’ face!

 

Not to be outdone were the Amegilla bees who zipped about between the flowers. Here is one sizing some some Gynandropsis:

Amegilla bee in action

Amegilla bee in action

 

Some smaller bees were also working the Gynandropsis flowers. They clung to the anthers while simultaneously trying to pull off the pollen:

Collecting Gynandropsis pollen

Collecting Gynandropsis pollen

 

Sunning itself demurely on a leaf was a beautiful bee known as Crocisaspidia:

Handsome Crocisaspidia bee

Handsome Crocisaspidia bee

One of the most common bees visiting the flowers were the Seladonia, who are tiny but beautiful metallic bees that often look like they are made from gold:

Seladonia bee hard at work.

Seladonia bee hard at work.

 

Among all the different bees were some interesting flies, including this lovely Hoverfly (Syrphidae) that is an exquisite mimic of a wild bee.

Do I look like a bee?

Do I look like a bee?

More from the wonderful world of insects soon!

 

Stalk-Eyed Flies (and best wishes for 2012)

Dear All – many greetings from the hot, remote desert in Northern Kenya…

Lots to catch up on here but firstly I would like to thank everyone for reading this blog and sending in your kind comments.

A few days ago I visited the Kerio Valley in northwestern Kenya. It was a hot, sunny day so I decided to stop and rest in the shade of some giant fig trees by a stream…

A cool stream flows through the Kerio Valley

A cool stream flows through the Kerio Valley

As I was sitting by the stream I noticed some of the rocks were covered with what appeared to be insects…

Who are these mysterious bugs gathered on the rocks?

Who are these mysterious bugs gathered on the rocks?

Hmmm... What are all those little red knobs?

Hmmm... What are all those little red knobs?

I took a closer look and was blown away by what I found – one of the most bizarre and wonderful insects in the world – the Stalk-Eyed Fly!

Bizarre and wonderful - The Stalk-Eyed Fly!

Bizarre and wonderful - The Stalk-Eyed Fly!

Yes, those are the flies EYES on the ends of stalks. This bizarre and wonderful arrangement is thought to be the result of sexual selection. Basically female flies chose males based on the width of their eyes. The wider the eyes, the sexier the fly seems. As a result, this amazing structure has come to be.

I watched the Stalk-Eyed Flies gathering on the rocks and leaves by the stream. There was a lot of jostling and showing off by the males…

"My eyes are bigger than yours..."

"My eyes are bigger than yours..."

One of the Stalk-Eyed Flies eyed me as I was photographing it and rubbed it’s front legs together… (you can guess what happened next!)

Hmmm... you look tasty!

Hmmm... you look tasty!

It landed on my knee and started licking the sweat off me! You can see it’s amazing mouthparts extended in the photograph below:

Oooh - that tickles!

Oooh - that tickles!

It was joined a few minutes later by a larger fly (that did more than tickle) so I had to shoo them away…

A larger fly on my knee...

A larger fly on my knee...

The fly returned to its perch on a leaf and posed obligingly for more photos…

Bizarre and beautiful Stalk-Eyed Fly!

Bizarre and beautiful Stalk-Eyed Fly!

Best wishes to all for the New Year and more from the wonderful world of bugs in 2012!

Amazing naughty fly!

Dear All

Many greetings – just back in access from a week of fieldwork at Suyian in Laikipia, north of Mt Kenya…

I have been looking at the ant-acacias up here, called Whistling Thorns. The name is especially apt at this time of year as the dry wind sweeps across the plains and plays plaintive music in the hollow thorns that the ants live in.

The Whistling Thorns sing in the dry season

The Whistling Thorns sing in the dry season

While collecting ants and scale insects (more on these fascinating creatures soon), I found myself sheltering from the hot sun and watching the comings and goings of ants on the trees. As it has been really dry, I didn’t expect to see much, but as always Mother Nature had a surprise in store…

The ants were walking up and down the stems and branches. The ants on this tree were Cocktail Ants, and they travel down to the ground to hunt and forage from the tree.

Cocktail Ant walking down a branch

Cocktail Ant walking down a branch

As I watched the ants coming and going, I noticed that one of them was moving in short hops and dancing around at one spot on the trunk. A closer look revealed the most incredible interaction taking place. First of all the errant ant was no ant at all, but a devious little fly that had perched on the trunk of the tree among the ants. It would sidle up to an ant and engage in begging behaviour that included tapping the ants on the head. The hapless ants then proceeded to regurgitate food for the fly. I watched it doing this over and over again (and on other trees later on too).

Fly coaxing ants to feed it!

Fly coaxing ants to feed it!

Ants do share food between each other, so it is this sharing behaviour that the fly is exploiting. While the ants fed the fly, I noticed that it gently rubbed their antennae with its own short stubby antennae to keep them mollified.

Naughty fly tricking another ant

Naughty fly tricking another ant

After tricking about ten ants, the fly then retreated to a shady spot to rest for a much-needed post prandial nap!

Satiated fly resting on the tree's trunk

Satiated fly resting on the tree's trunk

More from the wonderful world of bugs soon. Thanks to everyone for the kind comments!

More clever bees!

More from the lush, flowering bush of Laikipia.

In this particular flower, that I photographed the Amegilla bee on, the flowers are clustered along the stems of the plant, and have an interesting shape – tubular with a slight kink in the tube that is formed by the petals. This design is in place no doubt to limit any would-be nectar robbers. Flowers often go to great (if subtle) lengths to make sure that only legitimate pollinators access the precious nectar that they secrete as a reward.

The kink in the tube is dealt with by gripping the flower, holding on and causing it to bend down. This results in the flower straightening out a bit and allows the bee to access the nectar.

Here are some amazing (and lucky) pictures that show this sequence.

First the bee approaches the flower and hovers before it for a second.

Bee approaching the flower

Bee approaching the flower

Then it lands and grabs the flower.

The bee grabs the flower

The bee grabs the flower

Now the weight of the bee holding on to the flower makes it dip. This straightens the floral tube just enough for the bee to push it’s tongue into the flower and grab a sip of nectar.

The flower is pulled down...

The flower is pulled down...

Then it takes off for the next blossom and does this all over again. The entire visit to single flower takes just 1-2 seconds!

Amegilla-Suyian-LR3

Other insects were also visiting the flowers. The butterflies solved the challenge of the bent tube with their flexible proboscis. This enables them to reach the nectar.

A Pale Ranger butterfly...

A Pale Ranger butterfly...

And this large and handsome Tabanid Fly employs a similar tactic to the bees – he pulls the flower down and reaches into it with his long, stiff proboscis.

Tabanid fly at the flowers

Tabanid fly at the flowers

More from the world of bugs soon! Thanks to everyone for the kind comments.

Thank you for the mangoes!

Dear All – here are some pictures to share of some very important and yet overlooked insects. Mangoes are one of the most delicious and widely grown tropical fruits. In Kenya we are very lucky to have lots of mangoes available at the moment – absolutely luscious and so tasty. As we all enjoy our mangoes, perhaps we don’t spare much thought about how the mangoes came into being…

mango-fruits-LR2

On a recent visit to a farm in Western Kenya, the mango trees were flowering and the flowers were being visited by a wide range of pollinators. Without these hard-working insects there would be no mangoes to eat.

Here is a detailed view of a mango flower and a recently pollinated one with a very young fruit next to it:

mango-flowerfruitLR1

Here are some of the pollinators of the mango flowers – they include flies, wasps, tiny bees and ants!

Blue-bottle fly pollinating mango flower

Blue-bottle fly pollinating mango flower

mango-diptera-LR2

There were lots of different flies on the mango flowers

There were lots of different flies on the mango flowers

Another tiny fly on the mango flowers

Another tiny fly on the mango flowers

There were a few wasps and bees around too:

This is a tiny singless bee - very important group of pollinators

This is a tiny singless bee - very important group of pollinators

An unidentified wasp on the flowers

An unidentified wasp on the flowers

Even ants were working on the flowers:

Busy ants on the mango flowers

Busy ants on the mango flowers

The farmers in this area have a lot to be grateful for towards the wonderful diversity of insect pollinators who ensure that there are lots of yummy mangoes to harvest! More from the wonderful world of bugs soon!

mango-farmer-LR1

Long-legged Fly!

Dear All – thanks for your kind comments and continued interest in insects.

Have been in the rainforest for a couple of days. On one of the trails I spotted this amazing Long-legged fly patrolling a leafy lane. These flies are predators who hunt other small insects on the wing in the forest…

Long-legged fly in Kakamega Forest

Long-legged fly in Kakamega Forest

There were lots of butterflies about – the rains have been wonderful for the forest which is green and full of life. One of the most interesting butterflies I saw was the Clearwing Acraea (Acraea semivitrea) – as the name suggests, you can actually see right through the wings – they have fine ‘glass’ like windows in them which glint silvery in the sunshine. These clear patches are areas of wing that don’t have any scales or pigmentation on them, just the thin wing material

Clear-wing Acraea

Clear-wing Acraea

Also flitting along the forest paths were a number of African Map butterflies – who have what must be one of the most delicate wing patterns on an insect. More from the world of bugs soon!

African Map Butterfly

African Map Butterfly