To Bee or Not To Bee

2016-01-14 17.14.44 cropStock photos are terrible things. Not just because they’re often lousy, vapid images, but because they lead to errors of identification. If I had a dollar for every insect misidentified in a stock photo, I’d be a rich woman.

Take this lovely insect (not a stock photo, by the way, but one of my own). Sipping nectar from flowers, black and yellow stripes, must be a bee, right?


Look more closely.

Bees have four wings, flies have two.

Bees have generously sized, usually elbowed antennae. Flies either have long, filamentous antennae, or short bristle-like antennae.

Bees’ eyes never cover their entire head. Flies’ eyes often do.

Bees are usually quite furry. Flies are often hairless.

Yes, this is not a bee, but a fly. This is a narcissus bulb fly—a type of syrphid or flower fly. It is an excellent honeybee mimic. Not only does it look like a bee, but it acts like one, too, down to the pulsing abdomen and the hanging pollen baskets in flight.

The disguise keeps the fly safe—potential predators assume it is a honey bee and leave it alone. Of course, it lacks the sting of a honeybee, so it would make a tasty snack for any predator who can identify it.

Fortunately for the fly, most predators, like most people, won’t give it a second look, and will steer clear of it.

Which gives rise to one of my favourite “party tricks”—grabbing the “bee” in my bare hand, and then releasing it, neither of us harmed.

But of course, now that won’t work on you…

Now you know…

To bee or not to bee?

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