Sweat bees, syrphid flies, drought, and humidity

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.

Lasioglossum sweat bee
This is actually a male, and males can’t sting, but STILL

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.

Syrphid fly, Toxomerus politus
Small awful syrphid fly (Toxomerus politus)

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!

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6 thoughts on “Sweat bees, syrphid flies, drought, and humidity

  1. Ugh! I feel for you. You have also answered a question I often ask biology-type folks (ornithologists, veterinarians, zoologists, etc.): “Are there creatures in your specialty that you simply don’t like/find interesting?”

    When I spent my childhood summers in rural Indiana, I encountered the awful sweat bee. And “chiggers,” whatever those are (they lived in the grass). You have my sympathies. Working outside is not always fun.

    • Chiggers are mites and they are awful. Yes, it’s true I don’t love all bees! haha, those sweat bees are cute but they’re a pain in the butt. I love working outside…but you’re right, it isn’t always fun!

  2. Awww you just put my fly post to shame… Will pray you find a miracle cure that repels these awful insects.

    I have heard citronella is a remarkable deterrent, however I’m sure you’ve tried it and all the sweat would cancel it out.

    Perhaps you could search for, or make a citronella ‘necklace’, wrist and ankle ‘bracelets’?

    Just a thought. Not even sure if they exist?!

    Another genius tip I discovered recently has more to do with flies in one’s home, however, it may help deter at least one species?

    Tip: x1 plastic zip lock bag (doesn’t have to be big at all)

    Place a dozen coins within and fill with water. Hang in doorways.

    This water bag deters flies due to their eyes… the water reflects and shines around the room, helped by the light shining off the coins, and it creates millions of bright and busy light shafts – and to a general house fly, these lights are multiplied millions of times into their eyes (google ‘fly eyes’ and you will understand)

    The brilliance of light reflection! Hehe scuse the pun!

    Blind flies = Bye bye flies!! Woop!

    Now, I sincerely hope your annoying ‘friends’ have similar eyes, and you can hang a few tiny water bags to yourself lol

    Very good post by the way. Love your writing style and will be very interested to read and discover more about your interesting life. Peace! 🙂

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