Flower flies, they call them, in parts of the world where people had time to sit down in gardens and meadows, unperturbed by sunburnt faces or buzzing feeds, and plunge their faces into a realm of elevated heads, be they simple, complex or composite, broad discs and sagging buds aglow with pollen and dripping with sweet, saccharide fluid. Raising the botanical stakes, as it were, spikes, racemes and cymes vie for existential space in four dimensions, holding in their multiple chalices the essence of life by half, grains of divided selves that seek new blood and a chance to add fresh branches to a tree of knowledge beyond good and evil.
In this microcosmos of unwitting favours, sterile wingmen, workers of minor miracles, spare no effort to gather fuel for their sisters and food for their queen, tasks that entail repeated dalliances in radial beds and thinly veiled chambers, from which invitations to lunch are issued in invisible wavelengths, with the unstated demand of a double dip of soft brushes against legs, loins and the smallest of backs – the sole payment sought and the only reward that matters to these organs of a sexual state. The couriers of these seedy exchanges are often armed to the tip and have evolved colours bold and bright to warn off would-be interlopers. This heraldry, acknowledged by enough foes to be selected for and conserved over generations, has been aped by other visitors to the floral gallery, who serve no greater good but their own appetites and enjoy unlimited refills at stations where their pattens offer a measure of impunity.
Syrphids share with bees a taste for nectar and pollen, and like their Batesian models, float over vegetation at a pace that declares their hues and discourages attempts to impinge upon their routines. Hoverflies lack the setose undercarriage of hymenopterans, though, and typically fold their legs against their torsos as they dart from bloom to bloom, treading lightly on impact and never staying for long before lift-off to another patch. The family is massive, with 6,000 or more species worldwide and at least sixty-five in Singapore, where the most commonly encountered representative is a syrphinine with a flattened abdomen, shiny dorsum and the habit of lingering in mid-air – a tease on two wings, a fairy with bubbles for eyes.
Two species of Asarkina, salviae and consequens, have been recorded locally and are regular sights by trails such as Venus Drive where low herbs and flowering shrubs are permitted to flank paths reserved for civilised movements. The vegetation that sustains the adults may also harbour their young, which in terrestrial taxa almost invariably devour soft-bodied arthropods, usually after dark, using hook-like mouthparts and sticky extrusions. Aquatic species have larvae that prey upon wrigglers or feed on dead matter. But with little known about the juvenile stages of Asarkina, these and other native flower flies remain mysteries at large, perpetuators of carnage in foliage, galls and nests that grow up to become propagators of intercourse between the cells of a kingdom trapped by its roots and beholden to winds of fancy and junkies on wings.
Another native syrphid can be found swarming around small trees, settling at length to plunge their faces into the nectaries of deep calyxes and sip their fill of nepenthes, shedding in the process much of their dipteran caution. Graptomyza is built like many of its family, with a superficial resemblance to stinging pollinators, but the genus is an oddball, for it lacks a spurious vein present in all other hoverflies and not a few species have unusually long snouts. A conspicuous gathering of these eristaline flies held a party on the cymes of a low-hanging common tree-vine by the Wallace Trail over a month ago, close to a stream that lolled through a gully and a seep that bubbled from an ancient well. The presence of four dark, somewhat broken, stripes on the abdomen, which resembles a misshapen egg, suggests that these revellers may be Graptomyza longirostris, a species collected by Ridley from the island over a century ago. Sated and shorn of their duties to botanical overlords, the horde may depart for staler destinations: torn stems, bleeding trunks and other avenues of decay in which they will deposit their own gametes and spawn a generation that dwells in gasps and gives a rat's tail about debts to fathers who have long forgotten what they had once found.