Not a bee…or a wasp

Each day I go out in the garden to look for bees, and each day I find only flies, damselflies, and dragonflies.  So many flowers, no bees.  Even the bumblebees have deserted the garden, it seems.  Finally, I spied something yellow and black, about the size of a honeybee, not really buzzing, but definitely very interested in the pollen.

Very short stubby antennae, a single pair of wings, and an almost hairless body mean this is a fly, not a bee.

Very short stubby antennae, a single pair of wings, and an almost hairless body mean this is a fly, not a bee.  It’s a bee-mimicking syrphid fly.  These are good insects to have in the garden — the adults are good pollinators, and their larvae are predatory, consuming lots of aphids and other pests.

Syrphid flies eat a lot of pollen, but they also do a good job of transferring it from one flower to the next as their head and tongue comes into contact with the anthers.

Syrphid flies eat a lot of pollen, but they also do a good job of transferring it from one flower to the next as their head and tongue comes into contact with the anthers.

If I were naming insects I would call this "vacume fly" because his long proboscis ends in a stubby tube

If I were naming insects I would call this one, “vacume fly” because his proboscis ends in a stubby cylinder, just like the end of a vacuum hose.

There are some very small (< 1/2 inch) wasps flitting about in the garden, but they rarely sit still enough on a flower to photograph.  One caught my eye, though, because it did sit very still.

A closer look reveals that this, too, is not a bee or wasp, but a wasp-mimicking clearwing moth.

A closer look reveals that this, too, is not a bee or wasp, but a wasp-mimicking clearwing moth, about the same size as the tiny black wasps I was seeing.  No more than a 1/2 inch long, but with a very distinctive behavior while sitting — flicking that fringed “tail” slowly up and down.

The clear wings, dark purple body with yellow stripes, and fan tail were good hints about where to start looking on BugGuide.net.  I think this is probably a Eupatorium Clearwing Moth, whose larvae like to feed on the roots of Joe-Pye weed.  Oh great!  I just planted some of that in the garden last summer.

It’s interesting how many insects have copied that yellow and black body coloration of the stinging Hymenoptera.  I wrote about this mimicry pattern last year, so I won’t repeat myself here.  But if you would like to read more….click here.

15 thoughts on “Not a bee…or a wasp

    • I am shocked by the paucity of insects in my yard. The only thing in any real abundance is damselflies (well…and mosquitoes). So it’s not just the bees I am worried about, but of course, they do the lion’s share of the pollination.

    • Thanks, I’m so glad you enjoy my musings on natural history. It’s a wonderful gift to be able to explore something until you’re satisfied with the information — which is why I love retirement. And then, of course, I have to tell others what I found out.

      You’re no slug. Your photos are gorgeous and also very interesting (since I am not from your part of the world).

  1. Fascinating pictures. Here in Rhode Island it seems like a good summer for pollinators. I have vetch taking over the area beside my garden and I went out there with my boys to pull it up. But they refused to deprive the bumblebees which were gamboling there by the dozens among the purple flowers. Ah well, I guess it’s better than buying nitrogen fertilizer.

  2. I cannot imagine a garden without bees. I get so many different sorts that I cannot identify them all and that is not taking into account all the other beautiful pollinators. It is very scary as bees are so easily seen. What about all the other creatures that cannot be so easily seen? Amelia

    • Count yourself lucky that you live in a such an ecologically healthy environment. No wonder you are so interested in bees. People talk about which species are the “canary in the mine”, i.e., bioindicators of environmental health. I would think bees might be candidates for that.

      • I think bees are a good bioindicator and in addition they are more attractive in a sentimental way to a lot of people. It would be difficult to drum up sympathy for little black flies, for instance, however harmless and beneficial for the environment they might be.:)

        • The only use I can see for those pesky flies is food for dragonflies. It’s not very ecologically minded of me, but I could happily live without swatting (or seeing) another fly.

  3. Thanks!
    An informative article about a little-known insect, with a lot of good comments…
    But it’s “vacuum,” not “vacume.”

    (Retired teacher, but still weilding a red pencil.)

  4. Great shots, Sue, of the insects, and sorry to hear that the bees have not appeared for you. I continue to be intrigued by the idea of insect mimics. Sometimes there s a logic to the mimicry, but often the logic escapes me.

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.