As my Wife, Wendy, and I were enjoying a warm October afternoon last weekend by hanging out on lounge chairs on our deck high above the Big Piney River, we shared the moment with a fascinating visitor.
It was a rather large winged insect that looked a bit like an oversized yellow jacket or bee of some sort. But we knew it was neither of those, because of a couple of very distinct characteristics it displayed.
One was the extremely loud buzz it made while flying – much louder than the buzz of most flying bugs, and almost like the sound a miniature chainsaw might make, if such a thing was to exist. The other was even more peculiar and fascinating: The thing would hover in one spot for extended periods, not moving enough in any direction for the human eye to detect.
And speaking of eyes, our colorful guest more than once did its hovering as if it were having a staring match with Wendy. It was positioned precisely at her eye level only a couple of feet from her face, and seemed intent on making prolonged eye contact, as if it wanted to share some information or deliver an important message.
But it didn’t just fly. It also landed more than once on the cushion of one of our horizontal padded rest stations, seeming to pose so we could get a good look. Then it would lift off and hover again for a while, before eventually leaving us alone.
Although we had never paid such close attention to this kind of insect (nor had the same type of opportunity, for that matter), we agreed we had seen similar bugs before. But this time, we wanted to know what – or who – we were dealing with. Naturally, a brief online search revealed the answer.
It was a hoverfly. What are the odds that a life form could be so aptly named?
As it turns out, hoverflies are very common insects. In fact, there are about 6,000 variations of them, and some form of hoverfly is found on six of the seven continents on planet Earth (with Antarctica not surprisingly being the exception).
Hoverflies are not harmful to other animals. In other words, they don’t “sting” even though they resemble species that are notorious for it.
Hoverflies feed on pollen and nectar, and we concluded that there were still plenty of wildflowers (or blooming weeds) around that could very well satisfy the buzzing bug’s appetite. Interestingly, larvae of some variations of hoverfly enjoy feeding on small plant-sucking insects, like aphids, while others eat decaying plant and animal material found in soil or in ponds or streams.
Since they naturally come to the rescue of plants, the insect-eating hoverfly larvae are known to be beneficial to gardens and are sometimes even used to control unwanted pests capable of harming or destroying plants.
In fact, more than one serious gardener has even employed “companion plants” that attract hoverflies in order to take advantage of the benefits their larvae offer.
Again, who knew?
Anyway, I found the whole hoverfly experience to be enjoyable and educational. And next time I see one, I’ll know more about what I’m witnessing.
Not that it matters, but while our visitor was in full hover mode, I joked that it was probably a Russian drone equipped with a tiny video camera. Hey, you never know, you know?
Maybe next time I cross paths with a hovering hoverfly, I’ll look right in its eyes and say, “Hi Vlad! How are things at the Kremlin?”
OK, maybe not.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald.