Flies are Pollinators Too! May 11, 2016 12:30
Last weekend I attended the EYA's Citizen Scientist program to learn how to better observe and count pollinators in the city. While there was of course a lot of focus on bees, including sweat/mining bees, bumble bees, hairy-belly bees which include the popular blue orchard mason bee, and of course honey bees, we also talked a bit about flies and wasps as pollinators.
While hanging out at Oak Meadows Park, an old illegal dump site turned golf course later purchased and donated to be a city park, we walked along patches of wild flowers and watched different pollinators interact with the flowers. I saw the heavy set bumble bees sit on lupin to open their flowers and get to their bright orange pollen. I witnessed a ton of sweat/mining bees swim around in nootka rose pollen. Apparently sweat/mining bees are not a common sight in the Vancouver, Coast Salish area, so it was pretty special to see so many of them.
Sweat/Mining Bee filling their cargo legs full of nootka rose pollen
All around the park's flowers were tiny hoverflies also known as syrphid flies. Since I was a kid, I've been fascinated by these flies as they move around super quickly and then hold themselves stealthily stopped in the air like a hummingbird. I was happy to learn they are also pollinators, feeding off the pollen and nectar of flowers with their incredibly long tongues. In larvae form, some of these species eat aphids and decompose dead matter, making them decomposers, garden allies and one of my new favorite bugs.
Sharing space with the sweat/mining bees and hoverflies, I was also surprised to see thin black beetles also getting in on the pollen feeding frenzy. With a little home research, I feel confident to describe those little buddies as pollen beetles. Though they help with pollination and don't harm the flowers at all, a lot of humans find pollen beetles to be a nuisance because they are attracted to the pollen of pretty flowers people like to cut and bring into their homes for decoration - not a good enough reason to spray insecticides which will undoubtedly also affect other efficient pollinators like bees and butterflies.
Speaking of insecticides, during our Sunday class, author and bee lover Lori Weidenhammer popped in briefly to talk about her work with bees. With the minimal time she shared with us, she felt it was important to talk about a growing problem in Vancouver, the Canadian-approved insecticide called neonicotinoid, which many Vancouverites are applying to their lawns to fight off chafer beetles. Of course, this insecticide does not only affect chafer larvae but also has horrible effects on other insects and is especially toxic to bees. This pretty scary considering some landscapers will spray hundreds of lawns with neonicotinoid a year. It is a cheaper option than nematodes and is marketed as more effective. I hope there will be more awareness about the uses of toxic chemicals as pesticides and how they affect the ecological balance of the nature we depend on. Perhaps a better option to neonic and even nematodes is to seed deep rooted plants which chafer larvae can't feed off. Less lawns, more gardens?
As I continue to learn, I am understanding more and more that bee and pollinator populations are largely reflected by the environments we humans create, whether those environments be toxic or growing abundantly with food. The best things we can do is inform ourselves with the different needs and abilities of local pollinators, and try our best to create environments they can thrive in. Subsequently, I imagine we will create environments we can better thrive in too.
by Kelsey Cham Corbett
May 11, 2016