All in a summer’s field work! This field season has been very rough because of epic drought coupled with record heat and humidity, which led to plagues of sweat bees (especially the tiny subgenus Dialictus) and hordes of syrphid flies of nightmare proportions, all of which adore sweaty, sweaty field biologists. I’ve never been particularly fond of the Lasioglossum sweat bees, because they are nearly impossible to identify to species in many cases, but this summer has definitely not engendered any great love in me for them.
The worst thing about the sweat bees is that they want something you have, but then they sting you if you move the wrong way or your clothing brushes up against them, or you don’t know they are there and bend your elbow or knee. I’ve been stung countless times…some days I’m covered by more than 20 bees in any given moment. Their stings are not particularly painful, but it’s like electroshock therapy…it teaches you to be hyper paranoid about the way you move at all times. Which is just a high stress way to do field work.
And don’t get me started on those dang syrphids. I’ve always felt kind of neutral toward them…there is some evidence that they act as pollinators, but they’re not nearly as handsome as bees, and the “rat tailed maggots” of Eristalis tenax (a common invasive species in North America) can cause myiasis (which I will leave it to you to google). The species Toxomerus politus feeds on corn pollen and has become a plague at my research plots (which border on agricultural fields, mostly corn). I’ve killed as many as six in a single swat, and they cover me and the field vehicle in a moving, twitching, licking carpet.
They’re harmless, but in great numbers, they’re kind of horrifying, you know? One day, I was out in the field for hours and they were so bad I almost lost it. They were crawling inside my glasses, all over my arms and legs, in my nose and ears…and I couldn’t swat myself constantly because I needed my hands to tie tiny little pollen bags around flowerheads to prevent my invasive species from dispersing its seeds. Ugh!
Anyway, my field experiment is coming down next week, and as much as I’ve hated the sweat bee and syrphid fly plagues of this summer, I’ll be sad to see it end. Still, I think when people say they are “so jealous” that I get to work outside, they’re not aware of what it is like to be covered in crawling, stinging and licking insects when it’s over 100F (38C) and 95% humidity!