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Mother Nature Monday: Dance Flies, Balloon Flies, or Fairies?

The world is filled with such wondrous things. I’m often astounded by what I stumble upon while I’m in the woods. The other day, along the trail in Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, I noticed what looked like tiny, lighted, white Japanese lanterns bobbing up and down in the air. The little lanterns or balloons were about the size of a dime. I watched them closely, and my first thought was how easy it would be to think that they were fairies. The bobbing did not appear random, but as if invisible beings were sailing back and forth and up and down all around me. Some of the “fairies” appeared to be chasing each other. When I reached up to capture one of the tiny globes, it danced up and away quickly. The movements were controlled, as if a small sailor was guiding the globe through the sky. I finally was able to snatch one out of the air, only to discover an empty, tiny white silk bag in the palm of my hand.

What I was witnessing was a Dance Fly. When Dance Flies swarm to mate, the males fly up and down in a sort of dance. They have captured an insect, wrapped it in silk, and hold it as an offering for females. Females appear to choose the male with the most enticing offering. Interestingly, sometimes a male dance fly dances in the air with an empty package. He holds what looks to be a wonderful gift and in fact, is nothing but an empty bag. I bet the female is not amused when she discovers she has been tricked!

Hybotidae, the typical dance flies, are a family of true flies. They belong to the superfamily Empidoidea and were formerly included in the Empididae as a subfamily. They can also be found hunting for small insects, as they are excellent predators. They can be found on and under vegetation in shady areas and on front porches at night (dance flies are very effective mosquito-predators, but both genders may also eat nectar).

Magnified, they look quite a bit like a mosquito. Adults are commonly found in our forest, where they sit on leaves, tree trunks, aquatic vegetation and wet areas. We would never notice them except for their fascinating courtship ritual. They tend to form swarms, so you may see twenty or thirty of the tiny silk globes sailing through the air at one time.

When you are out for a walk, look at everything around you. There are two good reasons for doing this. The first is that you will see countless amazing things that you might have never noticed. Secondly, when you are troubled or stressed, by taking a fifteen minute break to actually notice your physical surroundings you will notice that you relax. It is a form of meditation. For those few minutes, other issues take a step back and your mind is open to possibilities. Your mind quiets. Sometimes, the answer to a dilemma that has been bothering you for weeks just pops into your head unexpectedly while you are admiring the needles of a pine tree, taking in the sparkle of light on the water, or marveling at the dancing of tiny flies carrying presents for their prospective wives.

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