To Be A Bee, Or Not To Be A Bee


Bee Mimic

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.”

Bee Mimic

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.

Bee Mimic

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. . . “

Uh-uh-oh indeed.

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.”

Bee Mimic

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.

A wannabee.

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

    • 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. 🙂

  1. 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!

  2. 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

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