Saturday, June 7, 2014

Fair Shake For Flies

Tachinidae on Cucumis melo var. flexuosus
Tachinidae on Cucumis melo var. flexuosus

Flies In The Fauna

Before gardening, all flies were the typical housefly that we loved to hate because they were disgusting, dirty little flies we didn't want on our food.  We wanted to smash any fly we saw with a fly swatter because they were good for nothing.

After gardening, flies started looking different.  Not all the flies were interested in what we were eating or drinking outside.  In fact, many flies were barely noticeable, unless really scrutinizing the garden.  In essence, the deeper our relationship evolved with our food, the more we learned about the many different flies in our garden.
Tachinidae on Cucumis melo var. flexuosus
Tachinidae on Cucumis melo
var. flexuosus

One such fly family, that looks most like the
common housefly, is the tachinidae family.  These flies are parasitic; laying eggs in the larvae of the insects that eat the food we try so hard to grow.  The picture above is a close up of one such fly.  The picture below, gives perspective of the habits and size of the fly.

The visual differences of the tachinid flies and the common housefly are that the tachinid flies have a bunch of bristly hairs on the abdomen.  That and they aren't interested in what we eat or drink.  They're more interested in finding a nice juicy pillar to lay their eggs on.

Cleaning Up The Compost

Hermetia illucens - black soldier fly
Hermetia illucens - black soldier fly
Another beneficial and larger sized fly is the Black Soldier fly; also known as Hermetia illucens.  Black Soldier flies are surprisingly large and surprisingly still.  The ones we captured stay very still and calm for their 15 minute photo ops.

I was excited to see this one on May 24 this year.  As soon as I saw it, I ran to the compost bin to see if they were doing their clean up job... and for sure, they were!

It is exciting because these flies love coffee ground laden, moist, stinky, hot compost rich in organic matter.  We love seeing them because they turn over the compost much faster than earthworms and keep the disgusting disease-riddled housefly and blowfly maggots out of the compost.

Hermetia illucens - black soldier fly larvae
Hermetia illucens
black soldier fly larvae
The larvae are much bigger than any other maggots I've seen and they are kind of flattened out with leathery looking skin.  The soldier fly larvae in the photo here was getting ready to pupate, so the skin is darker and it climbed out of the compost bin to find some warm dry place to burrow in for safety during its vulnerable transformation period.

Soldier fly larvae are becoming quite popular in the compost and animal feed arenas because they are high in protein and low cost in maintenance... You're just using your food scraps...  Some people are even liking the idea of using them for human food consumption.

Long Legs Marching In

Dolichopodidae, long legged fly
Dolichopodidae, long legged fly
Enter the long legged fly, member of the Dolichopodidae family.  These flies can be predatory on smaller insects as larvae and as adults, but information is a bit limited about what they do in the larvae stage.

Dolichopodidae, long legged fly
Dolichopodidae, long legged fly
These flies are so cute with all their jewel-toned green, yellow, blue and orange coloring.  I have yet to find one that actually caught anything much less eating anything, but I keep trying.  We see a lot of these little flies around the garden.

These are only three of the many awesome and beneficial flies we have in our garden.  We're looking forward to learning more about what we find in the garden and how whatever we find works within the microcosm cogs of the yarden.