The Bug Geek

Insects. Doing Science. Other awesome, geeky stuff.

Photo Friday: Soldier fly (Stratiomys badia)

On Tuesday, my wife and I were doing one of our daily “tour of the grounds” (i.e., checking out the progress in the gardens), and she said, “Hey, look at that bee“.

A large, hairy, heavy-bodied, yellow-and-black-striped critter was resting on a leaf.  It was doing a darned good job of imitating a bee, but a closer inspection of the face and wings revealed it to be a fly. An interesting fly – this animal was nothing I’d ever seen before – so I went in the house to get the camera and take a few shots.

The setting sun was still just peeking though the trees and I managed to get this one hand-held shot, which I immediately posted on Twitter…

hoping that Morgan Jackson would be able to give me a name. Sure enough:

Turns out he knew these flies pretty well! They’re pretty distinct and nifty. These solider flies like to hang out in open spaces near forest edges and often frequent flowers (exactly the type of habitat in which our fly was found). The antennae are not very typically fly-like: they have a long, enlarged end segment, making them look “flagged” or elbowed.  Also, their larvae are aquatic!

This second shot represents one of the first times I’ve used a tripod for insect macros. I almost never use a tripod (despite having been strongly advised by some pros to do so) for several reasons: 1) I’m lazy (it’s a royal pain in the butt to carry, set up, etc.); 2) I don’t have the capacity to manually focus with my point-and-shoot, so the distance between tripod and subject has to be just right for the auto-focus to work correctly (see point #1); 3) I find that most subjects are flighty or running and it’s easier to chase them without being tied down to a tripod.

This fly, however, was placid and had no interest in moving. The lighting was very dim (it was dusk and there was no longer direct sunlight), pretty much at the limits of my camera’s capacities with natural light (any ISO over 200 gives me terrible noise). Experiments with a flash yielded (to me) unaesthetic results, so I had to crank the shutter speed way down (1/15 s)  in order to get enough light into the camera while maintaining the greatest possible depth of field.  The tiniest motion therefore resulted in blur.

So, this seemed like a good time to try out the ‘pod. It was a royal pain to get into position among the plants in my garden, but this fly was probably the most cooperative possible subject to work with (it even let me prod it into a position I wanted). There was also no breeze whatsoever and I used the 10-second timer function to help eliminate any other mechanical shake. I’m pleased with the result!


10 responses to “Photo Friday: Soldier fly (Stratiomys badia)

  1. LyndaMichele June 8, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    So interesting! I would have NEVER thought this was a fly! I recently got a shot of a tiny hover fly, which looked (to me) like a teeny tiny version of a bee, until a fellow blogger pointed out that it had the head of a fly!

  2. Morgan Jackson June 8, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    Awesome shots Geek, I love the facial photo!

    The antennae of the Stratiomyinae are one of the possible reasons why the family has the common name Soldier flies; some people think they look like flags being waved by marching troops. The other reason is the epaulette-like markings on the abdomen of many Stratiomyinae species, but I kind of prefer the flag theory!

  3. dfg June 8, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    If you don’t mind a simple question, what is it that told you at a glance that this guy was a fly?

    • TGIQ June 8, 2012 at 4:52 PM

      There were two main things: 1) the face: the shape of the eyes, the shape of the antennae (usually in flies they’re actually very very small and hair-like; these ones were a bit trickier and more bee-like), and the mouthparts 2) the wings – this is the easiest thing to note: bees/wasps have 4, flies have only 2, plus a little set of nubs (halteres) where the second set of wings should be (you can see them in the first photo). Mostly, though, after you spend enough time looking at bugs, you sort of get a quick gut feel for what a real bee looks like and what’s a trickster. 🙂 (And I never mind ANY questions – they’re always important!)

  4. Pingback: The Weekly Flypaper » Biodiversity in Focus Blog

  5. Carrie April 28, 2013 at 4:49 AM

    I think I saw one of these yesterday , but not sure. It was carrying a bug and buried it? So strange, I’m trying to find out what it is. I have a pic and video of it, I can’t find a pic on the net of the same exact thing.

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