Tuesday, August 23, 2016
A friendly public service announcement on behalf of America's flower flies (family Syrphidae). Those little bee-like insects (such as in the photo) that sometimes land on you are not bees. They are valuable, pollinating flies that do a good job of mimicking bees. While they do have a tendency to land on people's skin - seeking minerals in your sweat - they cannot sting, bite or otherwise hurt you. Pancaking them, or dousing one's self with insect repellent is not necessary. I only say this because I've seen about six people in the last week overreacting to the "aggressive bees".
Apparently it was of help to the flies, as the message got a lot of attention. This experience got me to thinking about the broader picture of mimicry, one of my favorite subjects in all of natural history. The flower fly (or hover fly) does a darn good job at looking like something that might sting, thus theoretically dissuading would be predators from attacking. But flower flies are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to insects mimicking the appearance of Hymenoptera (bees and wasps) that pack a punch.
A few examples follow...
Why look like a bumblebee? Possible because robberflies are prone to perching out in the open, and looking like something that stings may telegraph a message of AVOID to birds.
Sometime I'll have to write about all the creatures that mimic bird droppings.