The Fly’s Knees

Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris)

After yesterday’s sort of, not really Bald-faced LIAR!, we meet another Syrphid (Hover Fly) who is all over itself. The Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris) pictured above on a scallion flower is a European invader — or possibly, more accurately described as an accidental hitchhiker. In any event, fuzzy fly is here in North America, and it does not take a long or sturdy bridge to get where its all dressed up to be going. This bumble bee mimic does some extraordinary clunky, bumble-bee bumbling/hovering. Unlike its Hymenopteran self, this look-in-the-mirror fly, much like the Bald-Faced Hornet mimic, seems to have that special fly je-ne-sais-quoi. If I had to put a non-euphemism on it, I’d probably go with a lack of grace. But maybe it is a lack of arrogance. Or self-importance. Or better vision. Or maybe flies think I stink, whereas Bees and Wasps think I smell like…well, let’s not go there.

Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris)

As you can see, Hover Flies like to pretend. They are pretty good at it, too. The way I have come to distinguish them from their archetypal, stinger-equipped brethren, is to look at the noggin. These are not rules, but just some of my guides. Usually I go to the eyes: the more bulbous, the more likely a fly. The antennae: short and knobby with a hair or two or three, likely a fly; a bee or wasp’s multi-segmented bending twigs tend to look different (though some flies have longer antennae than this particular specimen). Mouth parts? The flies usually have the standard sucking tubes (proboscises!) while the stinging critters have more bite up front as well, in the form of mandibles or similar structures. In the following picture, the Narcissus is cleaning its proboscis with its feet and legs; if you look at the head, the antenna, as described above, are primarily in focus.

Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris)

Like other flies, this species can be sexed by the spacing of the eyes. In the photograph below, the evident space indicates that we have a female Narcissus Bulb Fly, which perhaps makes it a more appropriate “costume” to highlight with Sexy Christmas fast approaching, since females tend to put the “Sexy” into the holiday. (It has to be better than putting the “Devil” in “Devilmas,” right?)

Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris)

Down the candy-paved road, I find myself finally ruminating on our fine fly friend’s name. Narcissus of course was a famously self-absorbed, self-loving young man who the gods mulched into the Narcissus genera of flowers, which often go by “daffodil.” The mostly anonymous, young larval Syrphids have acquired the name for their appetite for the bulbs of such plants. And once again, despite the pejorative connotation of its name, I can’t help but think there is something utterly beautiful in this fly that is almost not a fly, this creature evolved to survive in its matter deep costume. So I say, go forth! Be sexy, be beautiful in your costume, and even better (if you can) be a fly, that bee, that fly — be it all! Be costumed for your inner fly to thrive.

Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris)

Narcissus Bulb Fly (Merodon equestris)


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