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Robberfly

During summer, the water level in the Bhadra reservoir goes down. This exposes a strip of land. Several plants use this opportunity and grow for a few months until the land is submerged again as water fills up in the reservoir during the monsoon. Among the several plant species that spring up, the Heliotropium shrubs are of particular interest to several Danaid butterflies.

I was staying at the River Tern Lodge, Bhadra – in my opinion the most beautiful of the Jungle Lodges & Resorts camps. Early in the morning I went on a boat into the backwaters to soak in the beautiful landscape, hoping to see some wildlife. As the day got warmer, I decided to return to the camp. I had just reached the jetty when I was enthralled by the presence of a sizeable number of Danaid butterflies congregating on the Heliotropium inflorescences. 

Having feasted my eyes on the butterflies, I decided to walk up towards the stairs that lead to the cottages. At this point, I heard a cicada calling from very close by. I looked around and found the cicada on the ground. This came as a surprise because cicadas are generally seen on tree trunks where they are well camouflaged. It is from here that they conduct their orchestra.

On closer observation, I saw the cicada in the grip of a robberfly! The robberfly was much smaller than the cicada itself. The cicada was still alive and making the characteristic sound – but only this time it was the cicada’s swan song. A few minutes later this sound died down.

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This incident took me by surprise! I was in the open and there was no tree or any tall vegetation in the immediate vicinity say about 20 feet around me. Perhaps the robberfly caught the cicada in mid flight as they are sometimes known to do! I will never know. It would have been wonderful if I had witnessed the whole act as it transpired.

Robberflies are robust insects that are known for their ability to hunt other insects. I have seen them making a meal of insects of various sizes – some prey on creatures, even twice their size! Robberflies have a pair of large compound eyes. They also have a strong dagger-like proboscis hidden within a “beard”.  All these enable the robberfly to deal with the prey effectively. The stiff proboscis is pierced into the prey as it is caught. In the process, the saliva of the robberfly is injected which not only immobilises the prey but also digests the innards of the prey. The prey is then sucked dry.

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Robberflies are a large group consisting of over 7000 species worldwide. Being such a diverse group, they occupy different niches. And, being predatory insects they help in maintaining a control over the population of insects that they feed on. So the next time you walk through shrubbery or for that matter any patch of wild growth, keep your eyes peeled for there is every chance that you may just be standing next to a robberfly.

For more images of robberflies see:
http://www.wildwanderer.com/photography/viewtags.php?tag=Robberfly
 

  • http://www.wildcards.in Ulhas Anand

    First!

    Beautiful pictures, sir!

    The one with the prey is dramatic. Saw one during the weekend, no clue about the species though. Did not know there were 7000+, phew!

    -ulhas

  • http://shivanidiwani64.blogspot.com/ shivani

    Robberfly it is this time thanks to you.
    The narration was as interesting as your amazing shots.
    Will check more on the particular fly on the link given and will surely wait for more from you.
    What a wonderful way…i am learning…one step at a time about what i don’t even bother.
    Thanks indeed!!

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/radha-clicks Radha

    Nice narrative Karthik.. Never imagined that there could be 7000 species of this group!
    I love the macro image of the eye!
    And thank you for enlightening us, as always :)

  • Kesava

    This is truly inspirational as always. Amazing to know that there are 7k+ species. I like the way you classify them as “predatory insects”. It has kindled a thought inside me to know other predatory insects out there. So much to know.

    Cheers
    Kesava

  • Saandip

    Nice information on minute details as always.. Amazing closeup shots of the robberfly.. Thanks for sharing…

  • http://howyoudoin.wordpress.com Sandeep

    Why are robberflies called so? I used to think they steal/rob meal from other insects, but knowing that they can do some aerial acrobatics to hunt is very impressive!

  • Vinay

    Very Informative article Karthick as usual. Was surprised to know that there are 7000 species. Like Sandeep, even I am interested to know why they are called Robber Flies.

  • http://deponti.livejournal.com Deepa Mohan

    The words were as arresting as the visuals….my vision of the natural world is shrinking steadily…a walk in Nature might not take me more than in inch forward, perhaps!

  • http://www.livingintothewild.com/ Ashish Tirkey

    Beautiful pictures of robberfly and well recited..Its always to learn from you sir.

  • Viswanath Vittal

    Very interesting and informative write up sir. I do envy you your attention to detail and clear, crisp narrative. To say nothing of the arresting photographs.

  • http://backpakker.blogspot.com lakshmi

    7000 of them..wow..can almost visualise the entire narrative..need to travel with u more often Karthik

  • Sanjay Balachandran

    Hi Karthik,
    Great shot of the Compound eyes and arresting first person account as usual. One request for this & possibly future such articles – could you include more information on the insect morphology itself, esp how to identify this family of insects?

  • http://birdsonthebrainetc.wordpress,com Uma

    What interesting events you observe, Karthik! Superb narration as usual!! The face-to-face macro of the robberfly is stunning!! Thank you!

  • Mittal

    Thanks for the beautiful pictures and the narrative, its very interesting. :)

  • Gowri

    Very informative post. Beautiful pictures too.