Rat-tailed maggots are an intriguing subject in the world of insects. These unique larvae are best known for their distinctive “tail,” which is actually a breathing tube called a siphon. Found in shallow aquatic habitats with high organic content, you might wonder what these unusual creatures turn into as they grow and develop.
As rat-tailed maggots mature, they undergo a fascinating transformation. Their journey leads them to become adult drone flies, which closely resemble the European honey bee, Apis mellifera. Interestingly, drone flies are not only known for their bee-like appearance but also for their ability to mimic the honey bee’s behavior.
In fact, the rat-tailed maggot’s transformation into a drone fly showcases one of nature’s most impressive examples of insect mimicry. As you delve deeper into the world of rat-tailed maggots and their metamorphosis, you’ll discover how these captivating larvae become expert bee impersonators in their adult form.
What Are Rat-Tailed Maggots
Rat-tailed maggots are the larval stage of a drone fly, specifically Eristalis tenax. These unique larvae can be recognized by their elongated, thin, and flexible tails, which are actually breathing siphons.
These maggots can be found in shallow aquatic habitats with high levels of organic matter. The breathing siphon allows them to adapt to their environment by extending it to the water surface to access oxygen.
Rat-tailed maggots have some interesting features:
- The extendible tail or siphon can be several times the length of the larva’s body.
- They use their siphon to breathe while submerged in water.
- The body of a mature larva is about ¾ inches long.
As they grow and complete their larval stage, rat-tailed maggots will eventually metamorphose. They turn into adult drone flies, which imitate the appearance of honeybees and serve as important pollinators. Keep in mind that although these creatures may seem off-putting, they play a significant role in maintaining the balance in our ecosystems.
Life Cycle of Rat-Tailed Maggots
The life cycle of rat-tailed maggots begins with the egg phase. Female adult flies lay their eggs in aquatic environments or moist areas with decaying organic matter. You can expect the eggs to hatch within a few days, revealing tiny rat-tailed maggots.
During the larval phase, these maggots grow and develop in their aquatic habitats, feeding on the organic matter. The most distinctive feature of rat-tailed maggots is their long, tail-like breathing tube called a siphon. Some key aspects of the larval phase are:
- Larvae can be around ¾ inches long
- The siphon can be several times the length of their body
- They breathe through the siphon, which takes in oxygen from the water’s surface
Once the rat-tailed maggots have reached their full size, they enter the pupal phase. In this stage, they leave the water, find a suitable place to pupate, and undergo a complete metamorphosis. During this process, the maggots transform into their adult form – the drone fly.
The adult drone flies resemble honey bees, making them excellent mimics. Adult drone flies play essential roles as pollinators, feeding on nectar from flowers. Some notable characteristics of the adult phase are:
- Adult drone flies mimic the European honey bee in appearance
- They were introduced from Europe around 1875
- They are important pollinators, feeding on nectar from various flowers
- Adult flies lay eggs to start the life cycle again
Overall, the life cycle of rat-tailed maggots includes four distinct stages: egg, larval, pupal, and adult. Each stage has unique characteristics, allowing these fascinating creatures to thrive in their environments.
Rat-Tailed Maggot’s Habitat
Rat-tailed maggots can be found in a variety of locations. You are likely to come across them in contaminated water sources, where they thrive in environments rich in organic material. Examples of these habitats include:
- Stagnant water
- Manure pits
The reason for their fondness of these places is that they feed on decaying organic matter, such as feces, soil content, carcasses, and various types of organic matter. Don’t be surprised if you spot rat-tailed maggots in places with piles of wet, rotting leaves or clusters of decomposing plant materials.
In addition to these habitats, they can also survive in soil that contains enough moisture to support their growth. Keep in mind that larvae are usually found in areas with decaying organic matter as well.
If you’re curious about their transformation, rat-tailed maggots eventually metamorphose into adult drone flies. These flies are pollinators and are beneficial to the ecosystem, despite their unappealing maggot phase. So, even though the larvae might not be the most pleasant sight, remember that they’ll grow into helpful insects later on.
Role in the Ecosystem
Rat-tailed maggots belong to the Syrphidae family and are the larval stage of the drone fly, scientifically known as Eristalis tenax. You might find it interesting that these maggots eventually turn into an important group of pollinators known as hoverflies.
As part of the Eristalini tribe, they have a special relationship with flowers. When the rat-tailed maggot matures into an adult hover fly, it mimics the appearance of honey bees. This is an intriguing strategy of display, as it helps them avoid predators by copying a more dangerous species.
In their adult form, hoverflies help in pollination by visiting flowers. These insects land on flowers to consume nectar, and in the process, transfer pollen from one flower to another, aiding plant reproduction.
Here are a few key features of hoverflies and their role in the ecosystem:
- They are both predators and pollinators.
- Hoverflies are part of the Syrphidae family, which includes other bee mimics like bee flies.
- In the larval stage, they are called rat-tailed maggots.
- As adults, they pollinate flowers by consuming nectar.
The role of hoverflies in our ecosystem is not only limited to pollination. As predators, their larvae feed on pests like aphids, helping in biological control. This dual function of being pollinators and predators makes the rat-tailed maggots, and their adult form, hoverflies, incredibly significant.
In conclusion, rat-tailed maggots play a remarkable role in our ecosystem. When they mature into hoverflies, they serve as efficient pollinators that share similarities with honey bees and bee flies. In the process, these insects contribute largely to the richness and balance of our environment.
Impact on Human Life
Rat-tailed maggots, the larval stage of some hoverfly species, can have a variety of implications on human life. Although they primarily feed on organic matter in stagnant water, they can occasionally find their way into places where they are unwelcome.
For instance, you might encounter these maggots around dead animals, affecting hygiene and creating an unpleasant sight. They can also cause accidental myiasis, a parasitic infestation where the larvae feed on living tissues or unintended hosts.
In rare cases, these larvae can cause intestinal myiasis, where they infiltrate the gastrointestinal tract. This can lead to potential discomfort, as they might make their way towards the rectum and anus. Symptoms may include abdominal pain, vomiting, or indigestion.
On the other hand, it’s important to note that rat-tailed maggots are not generally harmful or dangerous to humans. Their presence can be considered a nuisance, but the risk of infection or any serious health complications is relatively low.
To minimize the risk of an infestation or encountering these maggots, maintaining proper hygiene and cleanliness is crucial. This includes properly disposing of dead animals and keeping stagnant water sources clean.
In summary, while rat-tailed maggots can create uncomfortable situations or minor health issues, respecting nature and following hygienic practices will help you avoid any negative encounters with these larvae.
Rat-tailed maggots turn into drone flies, which resemble European honey bees. By controlling their breeding sites and using barriers, you can prevent their infestation. Here are some effective control methods:
- Use permethrin spray as a common insecticide against rat-tailed maggots and other pests like house flies.
- Apply the spray on breeding sites, such as stagnant water, to control their population.
- Covering garbage bins and drains can help prevent these pests from accessing food sources.
- Regular cleaning and maintenance of your surroundings decrease the chance of infestation.
- Some predators, such as birds and other insects, can help reduce the rat-tailed maggot population.
- By encouraging their presence in your garden, you may be able to control the growth of maggots naturally.
Breeding Site Elimination
- By eliminating stagnant water sources, you can disrupt their breeding cycle.
- Proper waste management also helps remove potential breeding sites.
By employing these control methods, you can keep rat-tailed maggot infestations at bay and maintain a pest-free environment. Remember, short term solutions are less effective than consistent prevention practices. So, stay vigilant and act accordingly to keep your surroundings clean and safe from these pests.
Rat-Tailed Maggots and Other Insects
Rat-tailed maggots are the larval stage of the drone fly, an insect that mimics honey bees. As maggots, they have a distinctive “tail” used for breathing underwater. This feature, along with their appearance, sets them apart from other fly larvae.
Drone flies belong to the family of hover flies, which are harmless, beneficial insects. These flies are known for their incredible Batesian mimicry, a survival strategy where a harmless species adopts the appearance of a harmful or threatening species, such as wasps, to avoid predators.
Adult flies in the hover fly family are often found feeding on nectar and pollen. They have a particular preference for aphids, making them useful allies for gardeners plagued by these pests. Drone flies and other hover flies are not considered dangerous and do not sting or bite.
Let’s compare drone flies with other common flies:
|Regular maggot without a tail
|Mimics honey bees and wasps
|Distinctive black and grey
|Nectar, pollen, and aphids
|Decaying organic matter
|Harmless, no sting or bite
|Can transmit diseases
|Gardens and aquatic habitats
|Human settlements and waste areas
In short, rat-tailed maggots turn into adult drone flies, which are harmless insects that can actually benefit your garden. They are different from many pests and are often mistaken for bees or wasps due to their impressive mimicry. So next time you spot a drone fly, remember it’s a friend to you and your plants!
The rat-tailed maggot, known scientifically as Eristalis tenax, is quite fascinating. These aquatic larvae eventually transform into an adult called the drone fly, which interestingly mimics the appearance of the European honey bee.
Rat-tailed maggots’ distribution extends from regions like Florida in the United States to various parts of India. Although they might seem alarming in appearance, these creatures can actually be quite beneficial for your garden and plants. They help break down organic matter and recycle nutrients in the environment.
In the media, you might even come across references to these insects in manga stories or other pop culture sources. It’s truly intriguing how they’ve captured the imagination of creators.
Their physical characteristics include a unique, elongated breathing tube at their rear end, resembling a tail. This tail is particularly useful for their aquatic environment, allowing them to obtain oxygen while submerged in water. As adults, drone flies have legs and wings which help them maintain balance and achieve flight.
A noteworthy aspect of rat-tailed maggots is their adaptability to various temperature conditions. They can be found in diverse habitats, including polluted water. This speaks to their resilience and impact on ecosystems.
In summary, rat-tailed maggots offer unique contributions, from being beneficial decomposers in gardens and aquatic environments to getting featured in various media forms. Their impressive ability to adapt and survive in different conditions is truly something to appreciate. So, when you encounter one of these curious creatures, don’t judge them solely by their appearance.
Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.
Letter 1 – Rattailed Maggots
Weird water caterpillers with tails?
Location: Ypsilanti, Michigan 49198
May 15, 2011 9:05 pm
So my friend has a ”backyard pond” that gets cleaned at the begining of spring every year and that’s really about it. Its more like a cement hole with water. There is no fish or plants just water. Anyway, his 15 year old sun was cleaning the ”pond” out today and found these things that look like worm/caterpillars with a long thin tail. They wriggle in the water and swim slowly about. The smaller ones were close to the top of the 3 foot deep pond but the bigger ones started to come up when he had removed half the water. Can you help us identify them?
Signature: Shellin and Damon
Dear Shellin and Damon,
These are Rat-Tailed Maggots, the larva of the Drone Fly. They are often found in stagnant water and the “tail” is actually a breathing tube.
Letter 2 – Syrphid Fly
Bee like Fly
Wed, Feb 4, 2009 at 7:23 PM
Every day I walk by a hedge coming out of my front door and always notice bees flying around collecting pollen and nectar, you know, their daily chores. Every now and then I notice a strange pollen or nectar collector as in the picture of the one I have sent you. It appears more like a fly but behaves like a bee. He has very short antennae and an odd mandible looking mouth just under the eyes. I have also attached a second pic showing a honey bee to provide a scale of his size. I live in southern California out near the Ventura coast and it has been quite a warm winter this year and even now, the flowers are blooming everywhere and the bees are a buzzin. I know there are several species of flies that behave like bees and this must be one of them.
We believe your fly is a Drone Fly, Eristalis tenax, one of the flower loving flies in the family Syrphidae. Sadly, the angle of your photograph adds a bit of uncertainty to the identification. Drone Flies are excellent Honey Bee mimics. Drone Flies are perfectly harmless and do not sting nor bite.
Correction: From Eric Eaton
The “drone fly” from southern California is indeed a syrphid, but in the genus Copestylum. Without the specimen I can’t give a species.
Fri, Feb 6, 2009 at 6:16 PM
I wanted to thank you for your prompt help with the information on my ‘Bee-wilderment’. I was able to go onto the BugGuide site and from their pictures I was able to determine that my fly is of the Species Copestylum avidum. I have attached another picture that might confirm this but it is slightly out of focus.
Letter 3 – Rattailed Maggots
Subject: rattailed maggot safety
December 21, 2013 6:43 pm
we have found rattailed maggots in our soaking seaweed and also in our fish fertilizer barrel. My questions are these.
Would these not be there unless a fly had accessed the water?
How safe are these maggots to feed to chickens( who love insects)?
Humans safety:Is there any problem with watering our vege garden with this water? with these in it ?
Rattailed Maggots are the larvae of Drone Flies and they are generally found in situations associated with decomposition, like foul water or compost piles. To the best of our knowledge, they do not pose any threat to humans and you should be able to use your fertilizer as well as feed the chickens. We once wrote an extensive response to someone who found Rattailed Maggots in a Comfrey Tea they were brewing. You are correct that the female Drone Fly would have been attracted to the decomposition in the water and laid the eggs.
Letter 4 – Solitary Bees and a Drone Fly
Subject: BEE IDENTIFICATION
Location: Stanwood WA USA
April 12, 2013 11:12 am
Hello Bugman! I am an adiv gardener in Stanwood WA, USA about 50 miles north of Seattle. I love flowers but I have really become passionate about photographing critters that grace my garden, especially Bees. I was hoping if I include some photos, you could tell me what they are. Photo 1 has extremely long antennae and I have not seen this critrer since i took the picture, two years ago.
Photo #2 is a an almost triangle shaped bee that I call the Guard bee. This bee seems territorial and chases other bees away. Agressive even.
Phto# 3 is a larger bee that I named mickey mouse due to their large eyes and funny shaped wings. I have so many more! Let me know if you would like to see them! ~ Tracy
Signature: Tracy Sellers
Your first photo of the bee with the long antennae is a Longhorned Bee in the tribe Eucerini which you can view on BugGuide. We have several photos in our archive of male Longhorned Bees roosting communally in a formation commonly called a Bachelor Party. Your third photo might be a Leaf Cutter Bee.
We will continue to research that. Your second photo, the one you called a Guard Bee, however is not a bee. It is a Drone Fly, a nonstinging fly in the family Syrphidae.
Daniel, Thank you for the identifications. The Drone Fly was a surprise , but now that I think about it, it’s behavior does more closely resemble a fly. I am excited to be able to put a name to the Critters that grace my garden!
~* BEE Happy
Letter 5 – Square Headed Wasp preys upon Drone Fly
Location: Andover, NJ
July 28, 2016 8:16 am
I was lurking around my butterfly garden this morning and happened to see this small wasp (Eumenine maybe?) subduing a large syrphid. Amazingly, the wasp took off with her prize with seemingly little effort!
Signature: Deborah Bifulco
Good Mornind Deborah,
What an amazing image. This is a Square Headed Wasp in the subfamily Crabroninae, and we believe that based on this image from BugGuide, that it is in the genus Ectemnius. According to BugGuide: “most nest in decayed wood (logs, stumps), sometimes in sound wood; provision the nests with Diptera.” The prey appears to be a Drone Fly.
Thanks so much, Daniel! I was a bit off on my wasp ID, wasn’t I? Even with multiple field guides, I still find it rather challenging to get the subfamily correct. But it sure is fun trying! I just wish our summers lasted longer – once winter comes, I’m lucky to find a shield bug.
Letter 6 – Square Headed Wasp takes down Drone Fly
Location: Sussex County, NJ
July 31, 2017 8:44 am
I witnessed a square-headed wasp (Family Cabronidae, I believe) take down a large syrphid fly this morning and thought I’d share the photos. Also, wondering if you might be able to narrow down my ID on the wasp for me?
The attack was remarkably fast with the wasp landing on the fly and quickly subduing it. Eventually the wasp dropped the fly as it seemed that it was too large for the wasp to carry more than a very short distance. Interestingly, an hour later, the body of the syrphidae was gone – so did it recover or did something else come along and dispose of it? Fascinating.
Signature: Deborah Bifulco
Thanks for sending in your amazing images that are greatly enhanced by your written observations. Speculate is the best we can do for the subsequent exploits of the Drone Fly, but we can be certain that it was alive after the encounter. We would like to speculate that after that spectacular attack, the Square-Headed Wasp partially glided, and partially dragged her prey to her nest to serve as fresh meat for her developing brood. Of the Square Headed Wasps in the subfamily Crabroninae, BugGuide states: “Some nest in hollow stems or in abandoned galleries in wood, others burrow in the ground. Prey is mostly flies, but some utilize other insects.” Exactly a year and two days ago, you submitted a very similar Food Chain image. that appears to be of the same species, both predator and prey, and at that time, we identified the genus as possibly Ectemnius. We will look into this more thoroughly.
Thanks so much for your very informative response! And forgive my senior moment in forgetting the photo I sent to you last year.
I actually wondered if the wasp had just paralyzed the Drone Fly, or if it was dead. But it certainly makes sense that it would be alive, especially as it would be a food source for the wasp-kids. I have a small colony of Great Golden Diggers and frequently see them carrying very large katydids into their nests.
I have found with insects that the more I learn, the more I want to know. J
You are most welcome Deborah. We can always depend upon you to send in great images.