The secret world of the smallest things

fly on santolina

Misty morning

As Autumn sets in and the larger, more showy insects start to disappear, my macro lens turns to the smallest creatures, so small that I can only see the details by photographing them and cropping.  Each of these critters is much smaller than they appear here, hardly noticeable as they go about their secret lives.

fly and prey on grass


Carrying your prey across a tightrope of the thinnest grass stem is just showing off.

fly in golden grass

Golden grasses hide a wealth of miniature life

I like to show these critters with plenty of space around them, to show how very small they are.  And their landscape can sometimes be as intriguing as the insects themselves.

spider and prey

Small but deadly

Bee fly


The subject of my natural history post for this week is the bee fly or bombylius major. This bee-mimic is common in my part of the world (Southern England) in early spring.


Its rather imposing appearance can lead people to assume that it is dangerous but it cannot harm you: that long proboscis is merely a very efficient nectar guzzler. In fact, I think the bee fly is rather cute. Just me, perhaps.


They certainly look quite cute on the wing, with their spindly legs flying out Superman style from the chubby body. However, while they may not be harmful to humans, they have a sinister life cycle if you happen to be a bee.


This bee mimic lays its eggs by the nests of solitary bees. When the larva hatches, it uses a crown of spines on its head to batter its way into the cell of the bee pupa and slowly sucks the pupa dry.


Afterwards, the gorged larva pupates and finally emerges in its final form by battering its way out of the cell.


Needless to say, I have not been able to take photographs of the full life-cycle, just the disingenuously cute, fluffy fly.


For some more (and frankly better) pictures and two poems (yes!) about bee flies, visit my friend Giles Watson’s Flickr photostream. The second poem (which treats the life cycle) appears in a comment there.

PS Some of the images appear pixelated here.  They do not in the files I uploaded.  If anyone knows what I’m doing wrong, please can you help?  It’s a shame for them not to appear their best.