Honey, I’m Not a Bee

drone fly feeding on a stem of yellow flowers

The drone fly, seen here feeding on a flower’s nectar, is an excellent honeybee mimic.

One of the more commonly misidentified insects that I see in photos are drone flies, inevitably mistaken for honeybees.Usually the head can tell you which is which: on the bee, the head is more angular and flat, whereas the fly’s is usually more round and bulbous; the bee’s antennae are long, noticeably segmented and jointed, whereas the fly’s are short, almost like little paddles with a wisp or two of hair coming off them. After one figures it out, it seems obvious, but on casual glances or quick passes, it’s not so easy. And you have to admire the fly because it goes as far as it can in mimicking, right down to the way a bee hovers towards or away from a flower with it’s legs hanging down — quite an impressive faker!

(Disclaimer: so I don’t look too silly with my own misidentification, it’s worth pointing out that there are a lot of different species in the genus Eristalis, including the “Drone Fly,” E. tenax, which is one of the more common ones. So, I’m tagging the post as such, but this could be another species, let it be acknowledged.)

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7 thoughts on “Honey, I’m Not a Bee

  1. Very interesting and since I assumed your photo was a honey bee I am now worried about how many of my photos I might have mislabeled. I like your post title.

    1. Thanks, David. I certainly don’t like to misidentify my subjects, but it happens sometimes; even the experts get it wrong sometimes. I am certainly no expert or entomologist, but if you ever want a suggestion on an ID, I’d be happy to try to help.

  2. Meant to say lovely shot as always Michael. Although common the Hoverfly, Eristalis tenax, sometimes called the ‘drone fly’ after its resemblance to a drone honey bee can be quite variable in colour and size. The orange markings on the abdomen are variable so are not a reliable identification feature, though most specimens have a single pair near to the thorax. It also has a noticeable dark face stripe and curved rear tibia. It is a European species that has been ‘introduced’ to North America. The adults are arguably more beneficial as pollinators than honey bees. Only the males hover.

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