Flies of the Lord


Meet Bombylius major, the greater bee fly (thanks, Bev!). Not only does it look superficially like a bee, but its larvae are parasitic on the larvae of certain solitary bees. The adults turn vegetarian, and imitate bees in feeding on nectar. The flowers, one supposes, are equally tickled to be pollinated by fly or by bee. But insect predators presumably prefer their flies not to look like bees, hence the mimicry.

Ordinarily these are fast-darting insects, but 45-degree temperatures on Wednesday morning made this one sluggish. Somewhere it must be finding nectar, though — perhaps in the maples? And just a day or two of warm weather will bring the shadbush out.

I remember the last warm day we had, over a week ago now: by late afternoon, the woods were buzzing, mostly with calliphoridae. That’s one of the great novelties of early spring, that one can actually feel warm and brotherly toward blow flies. A rare religious impulse even had me effusing from scripture —

Their land brought forth frogs in abundance, in the chambers of their kings.
He spake, and there came divers sorts of flies…

–which, taken out of context, actually sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

The blow flies’ metallic black or blue bodies made a pleasing contrast with the light-brown forest litter as they blundered about in search of something darker and smellier. The most successful in this search will likely have the easiest time eluding predation, given how they stand out against leaves or grass, and thus — one supposes — evolution favors dung- or carrion-colored blow flies the same way it favors bee mimics. There are a lot of hungry birds this time of year.

eastern bluebird

If there is a God, my friends, this is how she works, in never-ending Creation. The methods may seem random or cruel to our limited way of seeing, but “it is finished in beauty,” as the Navajo Night Chant puts it. In beauty, in harmony, in balance: all three have been offered as translations of the Navajo hozho, which expresses, I gather, the central moral and aesthetic value of a people whose own Creation story begins with the Air-Spirit People, whom we call insects.

15 Replies to “Flies of the Lord”

  1. Hmm, when you put it that way, the whole macro-evolution thing suddenly looks absurd and unlikely….

    but not more absurd and unlikely than the available alternatives.

  2. Geez, I couldn’t imagine how you caught that bug looking so still. The wings don’t even seem to be moving. Nice patterns in that bird on a wire photo, too (although he appears too mellowed out to be hungry at the moment).

    I think I had a Teju moment this morning before I got out of bed. Thinking about the absurdity of being, of consciousness, of being in this temporary physical form arbitrarily instead of, say, a bird. I decided to get up and get out of bed anyway. ;-)

  3. Hey thanks, I’ve been fumbling around BugGuide for weeks now trying to finger that critter. I tried googling various combinations of ‘fly or bee that looks like a fuzzy teardrop’ but coming up empty…

  4. Perhaps the flowers prefer mimicry…

    How pleasant to think that you can love the flies and are not, in your spring powers, one of the “wanton boys” of Shakespeare.

  5. the most beautiful and heartening thing to me out of the recent weather destruction in my neck of the woods is the “never ending creation” .
    As with admiring the beauty of blow flies, I can’t help but stand in awe of little buds rushing out from behind twisted, gnarled and blackened once new spring leaves. The drive to live is never questioned by any creation but people, but in the rest of the sentient beings, it is more powerful than a locamotive….

  6. Thanks for the comments; sorry I’m so late in responding (away for four days, then no internet for most of yesterday).

    Harry – I don’t know. This was a surprise to me – the sort of thing I wouldn’t have learned if I hadn’t been blogging it.

    Teju – Really? To me, evolution by natural selection seems neither absurd nor unlikely, but beautiful and very fitting. Together with ecology, evolution puts human beings back in our rightful place as part of nature, reestablihing the grounds for a belief system that had been part of our common heritage for millions of years, before the rise of urban civilization led us to fantasize about separation and “purity.”

    patry – Yes.

    Gina Marie – Thanks. One of the things I’m supposedly all about here is rescuing Whomever from our fantasies and speculations about her/him. (But the less said about that, the better.)

    leslee – Well, the cold helped. I also taked to it, but I don’t think that made a difference.

    I have those kinds of moments all the time, unfortunately.

    robin andrea – Actually, i don’t know that the notion of a god that acts outside of time logically follows from close attention to the cycles of the seasons. To me, the most radical innovation of Western monotheism is not monotheism per se, which is a common enough intuition for people of a certain philosophical bent the world over, but the seven-day week: a divinely instituted cycle with no direct relevance to lunar or solar cycles. I suspect it was this more than anything that solidified the notion of human separation from the earth. (But maybe that isn’t what you were talking about.)

    Karen – Oh good, glad to help!

    marly – The flowers are of course running the entire show.

    bev – Thanks. Paul G. Zolbrod’s version of the Navajo Creation Story, Diné bahane, is a very interesting read if you get the chance.

    Cady May – I’m glad to hear that the trees are recovering down your way. Here, spring wasn’t nearly as far along when the cold hit – and has yet to return.

    Paul – Thanks for stopping by. I wasn’t sure everyone would get the joke, but it sounds as if some did!

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