Old Mystery Solved

by Carl Strang

Today’s story brings back a number of points I have tried to make over the years. For instance, there’s the idea that when one is engaged in natural history inquiries, there always are innumerable unanswered questions cooking away in memory. Sooner or later, opportunities come to answer some of them. Back in 2006, on the first day of the Roger Raccoon Club camp at Willowbrook Forest Preserve, some of the kids noticed an impressive insect.

It was perched on one of the outer roof beams of the picnic shelter.

Everyone checked it out.

It was a fly, most of an inch long. I suspect the underlying question in most kids’ minds was, will it sting or bite me?

The appropriate response to model in this situation is not fear, but interest and curiosity. Fortunately my response was interest and curiosity, so no problem. I took photos (making a record from different angles, yet another point I like to make), and noted aloud that it did not have a biting fly’s beak.

I thought it might be one of the bee flies, and that there might be some connection between it and the hole in the wood just above it, from which something appeared to be protruding.

My limited references at the time were no help. I kept the photos, and there they sat until last week. In the most recent edition of American Entomologist magazine there was a series of articles on citizen science, and one of them described an on-line publication, the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification. I checked it out, and found that one of its papers was a clearly illustrated key to Canadian bee flies. I remembered my photos from 2006, and was pleased to find that it didn’t take long to identify the fly. It was Xenox tigrinus, and when I plugged that name into the BugGuide website, I learned that this fly is a parasite of carpenter bees. So, not only did I get the identification, but I made the connection to the hole in the wood. The protruding object apparently was the fly’s pupal case.

Here are the reference and the link: Kits, Joel H., Stephen A. Marshall, and Neal L. Evenhuis. 2008. The Bee Flies (Diptera: Bombyliidae) of Ontario, with a Key to the Species of Eastern Canada. Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification. doi: 10.3752/cjai.2008.06 (or: http://www.biology.ualberta.ca/bsc/ejournal/kme_06/kme_06.html ).

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