BUMBLEBEE THAT IS “HOMICIDAL”

If you are smaller than, say, a hummingbird, you don’t want to get locked in the sights of this beast. In fact, this is the LAST thing you’d want to find staring at you, hungrily.
I visited some friends’ property in Hocking County last Sunday, and we had a tremendous field trip, full of interesting finds (more on that in a later post). At one point, we stood quietly in a woodland clearing, as I had just spotted a basking hairstreak butterfly. Suddenly, with a loud buzzing of the wings, this huge bumblebee mimic robberfly, Laphria grossa, flew in and took center stage.

I find these creatures amazing. Their resemblance to a fuzzy black and yellow bumblebee is uncanny, and that’s likely what you would think it was from any distance. Move in, as in this photo, and the fly’s jig is up. Huge eyes, only one set of wings, and a longish abdomen that the robberfly curls down in an arc. Finally, there’s no peaceful lapping of nectar for this animal – it has a rigid syringelike proboscis mounted to its head.

When a victim – usually a flying insect – is sighted, the robberfly takes off with a noisy whirring of the wings, like a six-legged Sikorsky Skycrane helicopter. It quickly scrambles to its target, and basically enfolds the hapless prey with its long legs and abdomen. Then, the coup de grace is administered. That pipelike proboscis is jammed in, and the equivalent of battery acid is injected. The robberfly will flutter down to a perch with its prey, and when the victim’s innards have softened to the consistency of a milkshake, the fly will suck it dry with its versatile proboscis, leaving little more than a dried husk.

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