Overview

Brief Summary

Taxonomy

Bombylius major is one of 278 species in the genus Bombylius that are found in all biogeographic regions except Australasia (Evenhuis and Greathead 1999).Since being named in 1758 by Linnaeus, Bombylius major has acquired a number of synonyms:
  • Bombylius major Linnaeus, 1758
  • Bombylius anonymus Sulzer, 1761
  • Bombylivs septimvs Schaeffer, 1769
  • Bombylius variegatus De Geer, 1776
  • Bombylius aequalis Fabricius, 1781
  • Asilus lanigerus Geoffroy in Fourcroy, 1785
  • Bombylius sinuatus Mikan, 1796
  • Bombylius fratellus Wiedemann, 1828
  • Bombylius consanguineus Macquart, 1840
  • Bombylius vicinus Macquart, 1840
  • Bombylius albipectus Macquart, 1855
  • Bombylius major var. australis Loew, 1855
  • Bombylius basilinea Loew, 1855
  • Bombylius antenoreus Lioy, 1864
  • Bombylius notialis Evenhuis, 1978b
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Introduction

The large bee fly is a bee mimic - it resembles a small bumble bee.The adult flies are striking and have a hairy body with long hairy legs and a characteristically long, slender tongue which they use for nectar retrieval whilst hovering beside a flower head.Bombylius major larvae parasitize beetle larvae as well as the brood of solitary wasps and bees - another reason for its name.The female has been seen to flick her eggs mid-air into the ground bees’ and wasps’ nests.
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Comprehensive Description

General Description

16-22 mm long, 40-50 mm wingspan. Anterior half of wings dark brown and opaque, posterior half transparent. Hair exceptionally dense with orange tint. Characteristics shared with other Bombylius species include a slender first antennal segment, long scattered bristly hairs, holoptic males, conspicuously bristled hind femora, and a distinct intercalary vein (Hull 1973).
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Biology

The adult has:
  • a long proboscis
  • a dark chocolate/brown front margin to the wings that’s 6–12.5mm in length
  • wings 9–14mm in length
  • long legs
Females will flick eggs into the tunnels of solitary bees or in a habitat that is suitable for the host species. There are several host species, particularly digging bees such as Andrena sp. (Boesi et al, 2009, Paxton and Pohl, 1999).Once in the tunnel, the egg hatches and the worm-like maggot crawls into an open host cell. It remains inactive until the host larva is about to pupate.The bee-fly larva then becomes a maggot-like ectoparasite and attaches to the outside of the host, sucking out the body fluids (Oldroyd, 1964, Stubbs and Drake 2001). This is called hypermetamorphosis - the different larval instars are present in 2 or more different forms.The pupal stage is variable, but some will overwinter, with records in Britain and Sweden recording a quiescent stage that may last for two years (Stubbs and Drake 2001, Paxton and Pohl, 1999).Members of the genus Bombylius fly early in the year and are found from April to June in Europe, North America and some parts of Asia.Temperature determines the distribution and emergence of B. major and it will not fly in temperatures less than 17ºC. The adults exhibit courtship rituals - males hover at height and exhibit territorial behaviour which includes darting at rival males and spinning at females.
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Distribution

Nearctic (Evenhuis & Greathead 1999).
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Ecology

Habitat

Arid regions with loose soil of the type frequented by ground-nesting bees.
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Trophic Strategy

Larvae parasitoids of digging bees, particularly Andrena species (Dufour 1858, Chapman 1878, Bischoff 2003). Adults feed on nectar (Hull 1973).
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Associations

Flowering Plants Visited by Bombylius major in Illinois

Bombylius major Linnaeus: Bombyliidae, Diptera
(observations are from Robertson, Graenicher, Motten, Macior, Barrett & Helenurm, and Campbell)

Apiaceae: Erigenia bulbosa sn (Rb), Osmorhiza longistylis sn (Rb); Asteraceae: Antennaria neglecta [unsp sn] (Gr), Antennaria plantaginifolia [pist sn] (Rb), Anthemis cotula sn (Gr), Arctium lappa sn (Gr), Rudbeckia hirta sn (Gr), Taraxacum officinale sn (Rb); Boraginaceae: Lithospermum canescens sn fq (Rb), Mertensia virginica sn (Rb); Brassicaceae: Arabis shortii sn (Rb), Cardamine bulbosa sn (Rb), Cardamine douglassii sn (Gr), Dentaria laciniata sn (Rb); Caprifoliaceae: Viburnum prunifolium sn (Rb); Caryophyllaceae: Cerastium nutans sn (Rb), Stellaria pubera fq (Cmp, Mtt); Cornaceae: Cornus canadensis (BH), Cornus florida sn (Rb); Fabaceae: Astragalus crassicarpus trichocalyx sn (Rb), Cercis canadensis sn (Rb), Vicia carolina sn (Gr); Fumariaceae: Dicentra cucullaria sn fq (Rb); Grossulariaceae: Ribes missouriense sn np (Rb); Hydrophyllaceae: Ellisia nyctelea sn (Rb); Liliaceae: Erythronium albidum sn (Rb), Maianthemum canadense fp/exp (BH), Smilacina stellata sn (Rb); Papaveraceae: Sanguinaria canadensis fp/exp fq (Rb, Gr, Mtt); Polemoniaceae: Polemonium reptans sn (Rb); Portulacaceae: Claytonia virginica sn fq (Rb, Gr, Cmp, Mtt), Ranunculaceae: Anemonella thalictroides sn/fp/exp fq (Rb, Mtt), Caltha palustris sn (Gr), Delphinium tricorne sn fq np (Mc), Enemion biternatum fp/exp fq (Rb, Gr), Hepatica acutiloba exp/fp fq (Rb, Gr), Hepatica americana fp fq (Mtt), Ranunculus fascicularis sn (Rb), Ranunculus septentrionalis sn (Rb, Gr); Rosaceae: Amelanchier arborea sn (Rb), Crataegus crus-galli sn (Rb), Crataegus intricata sn (Rb), Crataegus mollis sn (Rb), Prunus americana sn (Rb), Prunus nigra sn (Gr); Salicaceae: Salix amygdaloides [stam sn] (Rb), Salix bebbiana [unsp sn] (Gr), Salix interior [stam sn] (Rb), Salix nigra [stam sn] (Rb); Scrophulariaceae: Collinsia verna sn (Rb); Staphyleaceae: Staphylea trifolia sn (Rb); Violaceae: Viola cucullata sn np (Rb), Viola pubescens sn fq (Rb), Viola sororia fq (Mtt), Viola striata sn np (Rb)

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General Ecology

Distribution ecology

Bombylius major has been found in many countries across all biogeographical regions apart from Australasia.It is the most common bee-fly species in the UK where it occurs in southern England, the Midlands and the Welsh lowlands, but has also been recorded in southern Scotland and along the north west coast.UK distribution of Bombylius major on the National Biodiversity Network website

Habitat
Bombylius major is found in a wide variety of habitats including gardens and the edges of woodlands. Its major requirement is the presence of the host species. Loss of host habitats therefore has a direct impact on the survival of this species.
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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Behaviour

The adult bee-flies feed on nectar and sometimes pollen. They often hover next to the plant and rest two legs (front or hind) on the flower whilst feeding.They are incredibly fast and agile fliers. They tend to fly at 0.5 metres above ground, but can reach up to 3 metres.Many individuals fly along the ground to absorb heat, whilst others fly further up trees to maximise direct sunlight. When cold, the bee-flies perch vertically, pointing upwards, and they can remain in this position for a week or even longer (Knight 1967).Adults will also whirr their wings to warm up the flight muscles before take off.
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Cyclicity

Adult specimens have been collected from late April to mid-May, with one apparently collected in late February.
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Life Cycle

Very little species-specific information available. The general bombyliid life cycle is described in Marshall (2006). Females coat eggs with a sticky substance in order to gather a protective layer of soil when they are dropped into burrows of potential hosts. First instar larvae actively penetrate host nests, then molt into sedentary ectoparasitoids, a phenomenon known as hypermetamorphosis. Pupae are equipped with rigid ornamentation to assist escape from the burrow. Adults resemble bees as a deterrent against predators, and imitate them behaviourally and functionally by feeding on nectar and spreading pollen.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Statistics of barcoding coverage: Bombylius major

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 0
Specimens with Barcodes: 3
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

No specific information could be found. It can be assumed that as parasitoids, the success of the species is dependent on the success of the host or hosts.
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Wikipedia

Bombylius major

The Large Bee-fly, Bombylius major, is a bee mimic. The eggs are flicked by the adult female toward the entrance of the underground nests of solitary bees and wasps. After hatching, the larvae find their way into the nests to feed on the grubs.[1]

Bombylius major can be found in April to June throughout temperate Europe and North America and some parts of Asia.

Description[edit]

Large bee fly in early springtime (video, 2m 10s)

The adult is 14 to 18 millimetres (0.55 to 0.71 in) in length, squat and very hairy, with a wingspan of around 24 mm (0.94 in). It has dark patches on the anterior half of the wings and long hairy legs that dangle while in flight. The very long proboscis is used to feed on the nectar of many species of flower, especially primroses. While its wings continue to beat its front legs grip the flower and its long rigid beak is inserted to collect the nectar.[2] Despite its fearsome appearance, the beak is quite harmless.[2]

Bearing a mimetic resemblance to bees their body is stout and furry, with the top of the thorax being black and shiny and the pile either brown, yellow, or white. They have long spindly legs as well as a long rigid proboscis found in the front of the head. Their boldly patterned wings have a distinct dividing border through the horizontal middle between the dark and clear portions. Their antennae are typically very short and pointed. In the field they will be seen hovering and darting above bare ground or flowers, in an up-and-down movement, accompanied by a high-pitched buzz.

Reproduction[edit]

Bombylius major has several host species, including beetle larvae and the brood of solitary wasps and bees particularly digging bees such as Andrena. They mimic bees to allow them to get close to the bees burrow. When close, the female will flick the eggs into or near the nests of the host insects. The larvae are hypermetamorphic parasitoids which then feed on the food stored, as well as the young solitary bees or wasps. If the female is unable to flick her eggs near the nest she plants them on flowers visited by the host insects. The developing larvae then make their way to the host nest or attach themselves to the bees or wasps to then be carried to the nest.[3] Although Bombylius major is an excellent pollinator, the larvae limit the population of other pollinators.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Stubbs, A. and Drake, M. (2001). British Soldierflies and Their Allies: A Field Guide to the Larger British Brachycera. British Entomological & Natural History Society. pp. 512 pp. ISBN 1-899935-04-5. 
  2. ^ a b Insects , Collins Gem , Guide, 1986, page 114, ISBN 0004588185
  3. ^ Boesi, R., Polidori, C. and Andrietti, F. 2009 — Searching for the Right Target: Oviposition and Feeding Behavior in Bombylius Bee Flies (Diptera:Bombyliidae).Zool. Stud., 48:141-150.
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