Tiny Hoverfly

2023 January 22

On January 5, 2023, we kept spotting a small insect flying around. To the naked eye, it just looked like a little dark fleck about half the length of a grain of uncooked rice. At first we thought it was a fruit fly, but after a while we caught it under a glass and refrigerated it enough to slow it down for photographs. And when I saw the photos, the banding on the abdomen made it clear that this was no fruit fly.

It was definitely a fly in the order Diptera, though. It had the typical Diptera head with the large compound eyes and the stubby antennae. In this next picture you can just make out the rows of individual segments in the compound eyes.

And, of course, it only had the two flight wings, as is characteristic of the Diptera. This picture isn’t great, as it was moving at the time, but it is very obvious that it only has two wings, and not four wings like other orders of insects usually do.

Based on the coloration and body shape, I think it is probably one of the “Hover Flies” in the subfamily Syrphinae. One of the smaller species. The closest match I can find is Melanostoma mellinum, except this one is at the extreme small end of the size range for that species. There are a lot of kinds of hoverflies, though, and it is possible I didn’t find the right one yet.

This one was quite definitely out of season, normally you don’t see hoverflies in Michigan in January. Which is why I think it probably hatched out of a pupa on our Christmas tree. This was one of the balsam firs that we planted behind the barn about 15 years ago with the specific intention of using them for Christmas trees. We have never used any pesticides on these trees, and so honestly I am surprised that we didn’t have even more small insects emerge from it in the nearly 3 weeks that we had it in the living room.

4 Responses
  1. Tim permalink
    January 23, 2023

    I’m curious about the Christmas trees…how tall does a tree grow in 15 years? How many did you plant at the time? Or do you just plant one per year, and harvest the largest/oldest 15 years later? I’ve only ever acquired cultivated trees, so harvesting an outdoor-not-quite wild tree is interesting.

  2. January 24, 2023

    We planted three at the same time, before we realized that it was unnecessary to specifically plant them because there were already a bunch of Balsam Fir saplings growing out back naturally.
    After 15 years in our climate, they are between 12 and 15 feet tall. They weren’t pruned during growth, so they aren’t as “full” as commercial Christmas trees, but they are perfectly good and look nice. If we had pruned them, they might have only been 8 feet tall after 15 years. Further south, they probably would have grown considerably faster.

  3. Steve Plumb permalink
    January 24, 2023

    Tim, Depending on your location (elevation and latitude) and size of tree desired, 7-10 years can produce a good tree. Pruning to get a denser tree will slow it down some. Count the rings on your commercial tree to find out how old it is.
    A local school here on the coast of Maine had incoming kindergarten classes plant seedlings in a plot behind the school. When the kids were in 8th grade the family got the tree. If a kid had moved away the tree was sold to benefit the project.

  4. Tim permalink
    January 25, 2023

    That’s an interesting idea, Steve. Thanks! I live in a city, so no place to plant what would amount to a tree orchard, but I love the idea of a child taking home a tree that they planted 8 years prior.

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