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.