Yes, that is the question – and it’s a question I didn’t even knew I had until a recent Monday night Twitter conversation.
A few times over the summer, I’ve participated in The Garden Chat, a group of gardeners who “meet” in the Twitterverse to discuss gardening, ask gardening questions, share garden photos — it’s kind of like an old-fashioned neighborly talk over the fence, only the fence is really, really big.
Many of the chats have a theme, and a recent one focused on bees. I took the opportunity to share some bee photos along with some clever — Joe would say nerdy, I would say bee’s knees — tweets.
At one point, I tweeted this photo with the words: “Here’s lookin’ at you.”
I was pretty proud of the photo. I had followed this bee with my camera for a long time, waiting for the perfect shot. At last, it happened. The bee landed on a zinnia and I zoomed in — eyes in focus, wings perfect — as if the bee was posing for me.
Once tweeted, the buzz began. @Mr.BrownThumb questioned if my bee was a fly, saying that it resembled a bee mimic. It’s a bee I assured him, since I had watched it buzzing from zinnia to zinnia. Surely, I said to myself, I can tell the difference between a bee and a fly. Perhaps my photo had somehow been distorted in the upload.
More Twitterers entered the conversation. My single bee photo had created a swarm. @jchapstk tweeted that there are more than 30,000 bee species in North America. @kctomato added that there are just as many flies that look like bees. And @torontogardens joined in, saying that bees have two sets of wings and my bee only had one set.
After the chat, I was bee-side myself. I kept staring at the photo, as well as other photos of the same what-I-thought-was-a-bee, counting its wings. One. Two. One on the left, one on the right. That’s one set. And no matter how often I counted, one plus one continued to equal one.
I’ve never hidden the fact that I’m not a master gardener, and I’m certainly no beekeeper or entomologist. I’m simply happy that bees were enjoying my flowers. But now I worried that the other garden chatters might think that I’m a fraud, or worse — that I had intentionally tricked them with some bee-foolery.
I could practically hear them singing Bee-yonce’s song: “If you liked it, then you shoulda put a second set of wings on it. Uh-uh-oh. . . “
Enter Google, where I searched for the term “bee mimic.” There I found an excellent website from the University of Illinois that not only explained different bees, but also the impostors. In short, a mimic bee is like a fly in bee clothing — a drag bee, if you will.
According to the University’s Beespotter website: “Flies are one of the most common bee mimics in Illinois, and often very well disguised. Even so, there are two simple ways to tell a fly mimic from a bee. First, look at the wings: bees have four wings, but flies have two wings. Second, look at the antennae: bees have elbowed antennae, while many flies have short, stubby, or hair-thin antennae. If you can’t see the antennae, you’re probably looking at a fly.” In addition, the legs and mouth parts are also different. About the only thing the fly and a bee have in common is a hairy body.
And so I looked at my photos again. Two wings. And no antennae that I could see. As William Shakespeare almost wrote: “Where the bee [mimic] sucks, there suck I.”
To be a bee or not to be a bee, that is the question. And the answer is that my bee — the bee that I was sure had to be a bee — is not to be a bee. It was a fake. An impostor. A mimic.
I wouldn’t say that my bee mimic has left me with a bee in my bonnet. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s a big world out there and I’m the first to admit that I don’t know everything. I’m just glad that I learned something new — and it’s all thanks to Twitter and a whole lot of gardeners in The Garden Chat group.
Besides, I figure the next time the Garden Chatters meet on Twitter and they decide to talk about bee mimics, I already have the photos.
25 thoughts on “To Be A Bee, Or Not To Be A Bee”
You are quite a punny fellow and I loved the wannabee!
Hi Barb. I hope it wasn’t too stinging! Buh-dum-dum. Thank you, I will be appearing this Friday at your local Holiday Inn. 🙂
This article is bee-yond bee-lief! I had no idea there are flies in bee drag. WTF?! I hate false advertising.
I know what you mean, Susan. And there I was feeling all proud of myself for getting this super close photo of a bee — and pow! I just know that bee mimic — and all the other bee mimics — are getting a lot of laughs out of down at the comedy club — or wherever bee mimics gather. By the way, thanks for continuing the “bee” theme. 🙂
Regardless, the photos are excellent! Not an easy capture — bee or not 🙂
Hey Kat. Thanks — they do tend to buzz around a lot.
Bee-utiful photos none the less 🙂
Hi Vickie. Glad you liked them. I appreciate it coming from you.
At least none of us will be bee-wildered when encountering a similar circumstance. Thanks for the informative entertaining post.
Hi Diane. Glad I could save the day. 🙂
If you wanna bee my flower, you’d better get two wing sets? 😉
Great post and I love your photos! Last year I thought I had found a nest of hover flies, lovely little fly pollinators, but as I was messing around their nest I got stung….they were wasps! They fooled me too!
Ouch! It’s amazing how intricate and complicated the wilds of the garden can be. 🙂
Kevin, I follow this blogger and check out her post today. Is this a bee or is it a mimic? http://havehest.wordpress.com/2013/08/29/honeybee-and-heliotrop-flower-from-peru/#comment-8457
Just catching up here — I’m not sure. It looks like there could be more than one set of wings. Still, it’s a nice photo.
I’ve never even heard of a bee mimic! I need to learn how to distinguish the mimics in my own garden. Fascinating!
There’s a lot of info out there, and my post only touched on the differences. Please visit the Beespotter link in the post for detailed info.
You made my day, Kevin! I’m distraught! How many years have I been observing what I thought were bees buzzing around and enjoying flowers? Pollinating — or so I thought. Those flies ARE frauds! What deception. Well, now I’m educated; never to err again (at least not about bees
Hey K! Well, those mimics won’t have K to push around no more!
Kevin: Welcome home. Bee well, and enjoy tomorrow! —K
Thanks. I’ll be buzzing around all too soon! 🙂
bee-side myself with delight!
Hi Marthe. Get down with your bee self! 🙂 Thanks for commenting.