Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

A tiny bee fly

with 23 comments

Click for greater size and clarity.

One month ago today, on the morning of July 18, as I was finishing up a couple of hours of taking pictures in Great Hills Park and was almost back at my car, I noticed a small spiderweb in an axil of a broomweed plant, Amphiachyris dracunculoides, that had begun putting out some flowers. (July is a bit early for this plant to flower, but I’ve seen it happen before, and 2012 has been an accelerated year for many species.) Although my initial attention went to the spider, eventually I noticed a bit of movement near one of the broomweed flower heads and was pleased to find this tiny fly, probably not even 3/16 of an inch long, keeping busy gathering nectar. Notice how its proboscis is inserted into one of the disk flowers that’s just beginning to open.

Entomologist classify this type of insect in the Bombyliidae, or bee flies, and this particular one is in the genus Poecilognathus. I can’t be certain about the species, but it might be Poecilognathus unimaculatus. These minuscule flies are actually quite common in Austin, but their size prevents most people from becoming familiar with them. Without a macro lens, I doubt I’d ever have known what I was seeing.

In order to stop down my lens for greater depth of field, I turned on the camera’s flash; that accounts for the black background, even though I took the picture in daylight.

© 2012 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 19, 2012 at 6:16 AM

23 Responses

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  1. Just amazing! And thanks for the explanation (tip)!

    Sheila T Illustrated

    August 19, 2012 at 6:26 AM

  2. Love the subtle shades of yellow!

    Bonnie Michelle

    August 19, 2012 at 7:26 AM

    • It’s easy to overexpose yellow, especially in bright light, so I had to be careful. I managed to keep the rays of the broomweed from getting washed out while at the same time giving the less-bright yellow of the fly enough light.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 19, 2012 at 7:40 AM

      • Speaking of color, I find I cannot properly photograph reds. Is there a better time of day to capture the color? Remember I only have a canon point and shoot!

        Bonnie Michelle

        August 19, 2012 at 7:53 AM

        • If your camera lets you purposely underexpose by a certain amount, you can try that. If not, you may get better results in subdued rather than bright light.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 19, 2012 at 5:34 PM

  3. Love the tiny bee fly! Such detail and sharpness! The light reflections, the wings, the flower center and stars! Wow! Heh, it looks like a shopper picking over produce or something!


    August 19, 2012 at 7:34 AM

    • I appreciate your effusiveness. Maybe I can cast myself in the role of the shopper that you suggested, picking through nature looking for some choice items to photograph.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 19, 2012 at 7:48 AM

      • I had to revisit this bee fly pic again. I opened up my OS magnifier to take an even closer look at the more-clarity pic. The lower three petals each resemble bunches of three bananas each, fused, siamese-triplet style.


        August 24, 2012 at 6:40 AM

        • In some species in the sunflower family, there are slight notches at the tips of the yellow ray flowers. One example is the Engelmann daisy, and another is the Texas yellow star. I’ve never seen the sections of the rays as fused bananas, but now that you suggest it, I can.

          Steve Schwartzman

          August 24, 2012 at 8:34 AM

  4. What a beautiful image…. LOVE the colors – and like you say in an earlier comment, a tough one, I imagine!


    August 19, 2012 at 8:06 AM

  5. I’ve just had a tour of your insect photography, and enjoyed it tremendously. In the process, I found the fiddlehead and realized that – had I not deleted them – I would have had a clutch of photos of fasciated seed pods on my Cape Honeysuckle. About a half-dozen formed tight spirals, so tight they nearly looked like snail shells with blossoms growing through them. Ah, well. At least I’ve learned the word.

    This little fellow is a delight. I wonder if they gravitate to flowers they resemble for camouflage purposes. It’s certainly working for him. A pretty flower, sunshine, nectar – it’s a good life for a bee fly!


    August 19, 2012 at 8:31 PM

    • I seem to come across fasciation several times a year (including a couple this year that I haven’t yet showed), so let’s hope you run into it again before too long. The next time I expect you’ll hang on to your pictures of the phenomenon.

      These diminutive flies are indeed delightful—and common. Last year I found one on a sunflower, which of course is also yellow. I’m trying to remember if I’ve seen any on flowers of other colors, but I just don’t recall. If I do find one on a different color, I’ll let you know. Yes, it’s a good life for a bee fly (if it doesn’t get eaten), and also for a bee fly photographer. These little creatures often flit about and hover for quite a while before finally landing on a flower, but once they do land and get busy taking nectar, they seem not to be bothered by the close approach of a lens.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 19, 2012 at 10:31 PM

  6. Wonderful shot Steve, the colurs are delightful and the fly is pin-sharp.

    Finn Holding

    August 22, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    • Thanks. I appreciate that, coming as it does from someone who has so many sharp bird photographs.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 22, 2012 at 4:08 PM

  7. Fantastic macro shot Steve! Never seen one of these critters before.

    Michael Glover

    August 24, 2012 at 8:47 PM

    • Thanks. They’re common here, but so tiny that without some sort of magnification most people would never get a good look at one.

      Steve Schwartzman

      August 24, 2012 at 9:33 PM

  8. […] are buffalo bur, Solanum rostratum. The green plants forming a fringe across the background are broomweed, Amphiachyris dracunculoides. While snow-on-the-prairie and broomweed are at their most prominent […]

  9. […] like a reminder of what broomweed’s small flower heads look like, you can get a close view in a post from last summer.) Although I often see grasshoppers, somehow this is only the second one to appear in these pages; […]

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