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Two bees or not two bees

December 21, 2021

That is the question. And the answer is NOT two bees.

In the picture below there are two insects that superficially appear to be the same. The one on the left is a European Honeybee (Apis mellifera). The insect on the right is a Drone Fly (Eristalis sp.), seen in much greater detail in the photo at the bottom left. Both are active pollinators and when buzzing around a flower look much the same. The Drone Fly spends more time hovering when feeding on pollen whereas the Honey Bee has a more direct approach. The Drone Fly has short stubby antennae and only one pair of wings, the Honey Bee has bent antennae and two pairs of wings, not that either characteristic is obvious in the frenzy of feeding.

The similarity between the two insects is a classic case of Batesian mimicry where a creature that is harmless against a predator i.e. the Drone Fly takes on the visual characteristics of a creature that is harmful or dangerous to the same predator i.e. the Honey Bee. In this case the harmless Drone Fly has taken on the characteristics of the Honey Bee that has stinging capability. The Drone Fly is relying on the fact that its shared predator such as a Robber Fly can’t distinguish between the two and it will leave it alone fearing being stung. Drone Flies are not the only insect to demonstrate this type of antipredator adaption. Many species of moths and beetles also mimic the Honey Bee in appearance.

If I were to adopt Batesian mimicry I’d probably have to start taking steroids and speak with a guttural German accent.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Rebecca Bowles permalink
    January 9, 2022 2:41 pm

    huh, never new, correct me if I am wrong but the drone fly also seems to have very large eyes.

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