Friday, August 27, 2010

MIDAIR MUGGER

During a recent amble along a nearby streamside path, I passed from dense shade beneath floodplain sycamores into an opening where Jerusalem artichoke gleamed yellow in a narrow wedge of sunlit glade. Several bumblebees were working the bright blooms. As I watched, a whirring fly-like creature simply snatched a hovering bee in midair. An attack that came out of nowhere, quick as lightening, deadly as a gunshot to the head. One moment the bee was going about its nectar-gathering business, the next it was being carried off to become a flying carnivore's lunch.
The perpetrator was a giant robber fly, a predatory insect also—unsurprisingly!—sometimes called a bee killer. In fact, the oversized assailant looked rather like a cross between a long-bodied horsefly and some sort of wasp—sporting spiny legs, large complex eyes, a hairy thorax, and yellow bands along the abdomen. The formidable aerial assassin was easily an inch long.
There are several thousand species of robber flies worldwide, about 1000 species in North America. The one I saw and later photographed is probably in the Promachus genus. Giant robber flies are voracious, and will catch and eat practically any other bug that flies—from bees to dragonflies, even butterflies! If they were the size of pit bulls, they'd nab us, too, and summarily suck out our fluids, and we'd wind up nothing more than rattling bones in a wrinkled bag. Not a pleasant fate to contemplate.
I watched as the big robber fly devoured its latest meal. Nature isn't always pretty; the real world outdoors isn't scripted like a Disney feature. Times are quick and hard, life and death have equal billing, and scenarios get pretty messy sometimes. I don't think you have to dwell on this when writing about nature, but I do believe you need to be honest.
Is a robber fly any less fascinating than a bumblebee? Whoever named it certainly must have thought these winged attackers worthy—in fact, they were in obvious admiration because the genus name, Promachus, comes from the Greek, promachos, which means "fighting in front," a champion, a "defending deity." Quite the honorific…unless you're a bee.
———————

14 comments:

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ-

First, I would love some Jerusalem artichokes. Can't get them here, local or otherwise. There is a great roasted veggie recipe tht calls for those. I would gladly pay for the shipping if they are in fact, ship-able.

Great pictures of that robber fly - gruesome story though - but so is life at times.
Love to you
Gail;
peace and hope.....

The Weaver of Grass said...

Nature red in tooth and claw as they say - I am so glad we do not have those creatures here. We do have dragon flies - or as I prefer their old name - the devil's darning needles.

George said...

I can always depend you on you to introduce me to something I know nothing about, and this is just another example. I never cease to be amazed at how terrifying nature can be, even on the level of small insects. My only regret about this article on "robber flies" is that it did not come a few years ago, in which case I would have had a perfect name for the idiots whose greed drove the country in to an unprecedented financial crisis. "Robber flies" — the opportunities to use that expression seem endless.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

As these particular Jerusalem artichokes were growing on property owned by the Audubon Society, I'd probably best not go digging there.

The roots would ship well enough, I suppose, though they might be a bit dried out and less tasty by the time they arrived. You really ought to be able to find them locally, growing wild, as they're native from Maine all the way down the coast to Florida and west to Texas. A lot of people see them along roadside or in the corner of old fields and simply mistake them for sunflowers. You might try commissioning one of your plant-savvy friends to go scout a few backroads.

I've not paid any real attention to looking for a good source nearby. I'll have to do so. It's been several years since I dug and prepared any, but they're quite tasty raw when sliced thin into a salad, sweet and nutty, and are pretty good steamed, as well.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

Ha! You do have various robber flies throughout Britain. Here's a link which has a photo of a robber fly which looks remarkably similar to the one in my post:

http://www.uksafari.com/robberflies.htm

They're just not something you see every day—at least I don't—though they're not uncommon. I expect a good bug man could probably find robber flies at will. BTW, here, another name for a dragonfly is "snake-doctor," though like a lot of the old terms, its usage is declining.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

George…

You just never know what lurks in your back yard…but I assure you, they were there all the time.

As to using their name in vain…there are still years ahead, and doubtless untold opportunities for a fresh and vivid imprecation to be vehemently applied. I see no reason to forego yourself the pleasure of occasionally inserting a good entomologically-based revilement into a conversation.

Lindah said...

Years ago, my dad called the dragonfly "snake feeder."
Interesting bit about the robber fly. New to me. I'll be looking for them.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Lindah…

Now that you mention it, I also remember some folks calling dragonflies "snake feeders."

Personally, I like the colorful old names of birds and flowers, bugs, trees, etc. They're part of our vernacular history. Scientific nomenclature is exact and useful, and certainly has its place—but is all too often flat and uninteresting, a soulless cataloging barely a step up from a number. (I can just imagine THAT conversation…"Hey, I saw two 1178s at the feeder this morning!" "Really? All I've been seeing are 928s and a couple of 14s.")

Anyway, I find such overuse a little off-putting. It's probably just one of my quirks.

Jayne said...

I've never seen one.... and am not sure I want to? It's the "Circle of Life" (now I hear the song in my head) and I suppose we need to thank these guys that we are not overrun with insects?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

They're nothing to fear, and in fact, are not prone to allow you close. You have to be sneaky, or lucky, to get close enough for a photo. You wouldn't want to be the only bee in sight, though.

(Confound it, you better not have started that song in My head!) :-«]

Grace said...

That's funny, I just posted about a "murder" I witnessed today, too. I guess a lot of that is going on these days:)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Grace…

Hey, you gotta remember…"murder" to some, means good eats to others. Supper or slaughter? All in your point of view.

Luuuuuua said...

superbe fotografii,felicitari

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Luuuuuua…

Thank you—and welcome to Riverdaze!