You must have heard us buzzing around agricultural fields, especially near flowers. We are thungzey, one of the most recognised insects in the Spiti Valley. Flowers are our food source and we visit a lot of them in a day to find enough food. While doing this, some pollen might stick to our bodies and thus gets transferred to other flowers. This results in pollination, which leads to the setting of the fruits like apple and apricot, and vegetables like green and black peas. Therefore, we perform one of the most critical and important ecosystem services in agriculture, that too free of cost!
Farmers call us chhota (small) and bada (big) thungzey. But did you know that we are not one insect but a group of diverse insect species: honeybees, solitary bees, bumblebees, and even flies? I belong to a group of flies, called hoverflies. While we look like bees and wasps, we do not have any defensive weapons, like stings or skin irritants. But we have an interesting trick up our sleeve: since we just look and act like bees with the same appearance (colours and flying pattern), our common predators mistake us for the stinging bees and wasps and avoid attacking us. This makes us excellent Batesian mimics in both appearance and behaviour. Alas, that is also why people keep their distance from us to avoid getting bitten or stung.
We find these flowers using various clues which the flowers have. We often fly around close to the ground, searching for familiar colours and shapes of our favourite flowers. Sometimes, we also follow the flowers’ smell using our noses (did you know that our noses are actually located in the antennae on our head?). As we come closer, the carbon dioxide and humidity around the flowers help us to find a place to land on the flower petals. We then simply use our proboscis (tongue-like mouth part) to lap up delicious nectar (full of carbohydrates, like sugar and barley) and pollen (rich source of protein, like meat and peas). Sometimes, we also pack some pollen in tiny baskets on our back legs, which we carry back to our nests for our families! So, while we get our food from these flowers, the flowers in turn avail pollination and thus bear fruits: that is a win-win situation!
However, only some of us sting and that too in self-defence, like my friends the bees and bumblebees. But if you do not trouble us, we also do not like to harm anyone. However, given our vital contribution to the agricultural process, we would urge everyone to get to know us better.
You can easily do that in your own backyard! You just have to find some fully bloomed flowers on a sunny day, near your house or the fields.
About the Storyteller
Gauri is a PhD scholar at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore and she studies plant-pollinator interactions in Himalayas, especially insect behaviour and physiology. Apart from work, she likes photography, reading and travelling.
Gauri is also on Instagram @gharpure.gauri