To Bee or Not to Bee

Mimicry:  The resemblance of one organism to another for concealment and protection.

This large drone fly looks so much like male European honeybees that many predators often give this fly a pass.

I discovered this drone fly in late August dining on the onion flowers in my garden. At first I thought it was a large bee, but soon realized my mistake. After checking several sources I found some ways to tell the two apart.

  • First, count the wings.

Two wings, no sting. (You’ve found a drone fly.)
Four wings, ouch. (If you mess with a queen or a worker bee you may get stung.)

Drone fly

  • Second, does it hover in the air?

Drone flies are a type of hoverfly and — like the name suggests — they can hover like a helicopter. Honeybees can’t do that.

  • Third, check the antennae.

Honeybees have longish antennae, with an elbow-like kink in each. Drone flies have little stubby knobs.

  • Finally, look at its back.

Can you see the big black “H” just past the mid-section? You’ve got yourself a drone fly. Yup, I know honeybee starts with an “H”. Think helicopter or hoverfly instead. 🙂

Drone Fly

Drone flies are the Jekyll and Hyde of the fly world. Adults are easy on the eyes. Larvae, are, well, um, icky to say the least. Some might say gross.

Rat-tailed maggots live in manure lagoons and similar places with high levels of “organic matter” (i.e. feces). The long “tail” is actually a breathing tube so the maggot can feed underwater without returning to the surface for air.

The University of Florida’s Featured Creatures website has excellent photos comparing honeybees and drone flies — and several of the rat-tailed maggots. You might also want to check out the description of “accidental myiasis”. That should keep you up at night.

Drone fly   Eristalis tenax


An Afternoon sans Snakes

In town the other day with time to spare I climbed up Snake Hill. Once home to several garter snake dens, the hill hosts few if any snakes now but perhaps on such a warm day I might find some.

I visited the spot where I found the gorgeous clematis early in June. Now the seeds heads are unfurling, like mop-haired cartoon characters, the feathery plumes just beginning to show.

Blue clematis seed head

Blue clematis

Next I set off on one of the trails that crisscross the hill to see what I might see. On my climb I found a couple of cow parsnips. On the pungent white flowers insect sex was, so to speak, in full bloom.

Yellow velvet beetles

The participants were yellow velvet beetles aka flower longhorns. A new beetle to me. They were so busy making little beetles I couldn’t get a good photo of the pile on, but when the heat of the moment passed several quieted down enough to have their picture taken.

Yellow velvet beetle on cow parsnip

What I took to be pollen on this beetle turned out to be very fine yellow hairs. Its species name, chrysocoma, means gold-haired. Good choice.

Walking back to the main trail I spotted a grasshopper. Another find. Not an adult yet (no wings — just stubby bits that foreshadow what’s to come). Best guess? A two-striped grasshopper. The eyes are gorgeous, warm and brown-filled with tiny tan spots.

Two-striped grasshopper

Further along the trail another cow parsnip and another new beetle — a round-necked longhorn. Several of them of varying sizes were wandering around the flowers. No sex this time (but perhaps I came late to the party).

Round-necked longhorn beetle

The striking pattern, reminiscent of a sad face, made it easy to ID. In side view you can see the rounded, almost hump-like neck which gives it its name.

Round-necked longhorn beetle

The black and yellow colours, reminiscent of wasps, means it’s sometimes mistaken for a wasp. But no worry. The adults don’t sting or bite, preferring pollen and nectar.

I found no snakes on my rambles. Still, it was a lovely afternoon on the hill. Gotta do that more often. 🙂

Blue clematis   Clematis verticellaris var. columbiana
Cow parsnip   Heracleum lanatum
Round-necked longhorn   Clytus ruricola
Two-striped grasshopper   Melanoplus bivittatus
Yellow velvet beetle/Flower longhorn   Lepturobosca chrysocoma
(formerly Cosmosalia chrysocoma)