They can't drain your bank account. They can't open up new credit cards. They can't get medical treatment on your health insurance.
But they are identity thieves, nonetheless.
Meet the drone fly (Eristalis tenax), often mistaken for a honey bee.
Indeed, it's about the size of a honey bee. In its adult form, it's a pollinator, just like the honey bee.
Unlike a honey bee, however, the drone fly "hovers" over a flower before landing. And unlike a honey bee, the drone fly has one set of wings, large eyes, stubby antennae, and a distinguishing "H" on its abdomen. Robbin Thorp, UC Davis distinguished emeritus professor of entomology, jokingly calls the drone fly "The H Bee."
Drone fly larvae are known as rattailed maggots. They feed off bacteria in drainage ditches, manure or cess pools, sewers and the like.
The fly belongs to the family Syrphidae (which includes insects commonly known as syrphids, flower flies, and hover flies) in the order, Diptera. The honey bee is Apis mellifera, family Apidae, order Hymenoptera.
One's a fly. One's a bee.
Lately we've been seeing scores of drone flies nectaring on our Mexican sunflower (Tithonia).
Identify thievery does have its advantages. Wary people and predators often shy away from drone flies, thinking they are honey bees and might sting them.
Drone flies can't sting. They can't drain your bank, either.
So you're walking along Doran Regional Park Beach in Sonoma County on Tuesday, Oct. 16 and thinking about the pollinators in your back yard. (Don't we all?)
And then: what a delight to see. Apis mellifera (honey bees) and Eristalis tenax, syrphid flies (better known as a "drone flies") nectaring on the tiny blossoms of a sea rocket plant (genus Cakile).
This particular plant species? The European sea rocket, Cakile maritima, a succulent annual that's a member of the mustard family. It grows in clumps or mounds on sandy beaches and bluffs along the coastlines of North Africa, western Asia, and North America. It boasts a long, slender and stout taproot.
You've probably seen it. But you may not have noticed the pollinators.
"Their leaves are fleshy," is how Wikipedia describes the plant. "Flowers are typically pale mauve to white, with petals about 1 cm in length. Each fruit has two sections, one that remains attached to the adult, and the other which that falls off for dispersal by wind or water."
At Doran Beach, two species of sea rocket (C. maritima or European sea rocket, and C. edentula or American sea rocket) bloom from spring through summer--and sometimes in early fall.
Bees at the beach? Floating fruit?
And flies (syrphids), too.
Hey, honey bee, I'll race you to the flowers.
Okay, but you'll lose. I can go faster. Watch me!
The scene: a male bumble bee, Bombus melanopygus, and a worker honey bee, Apis mellifera, are buzzing along at breakneck speed toward the lavender in our pollinator garden in Vacaville, Calif.
They nearly collide but Mr. Bumble Bee pauses in mid-air and gives Ms. Honey Bee a free pass---and just in time for National Pollinator Week, when all of our pollinators need free passes! That starts out with two crucial steps: plant bee-friendly flowers and avoid using pesticides. Feed them food, not poison.
The end result here: plenty of nectar for everyone.
Bombus melanopygus, also known as the black-tailed honey bee, is among the bumble bees featured in the book, Bumble Bees of North America: An Identification Guide (Princeton University), the award-winning work of Paul H. Williams, Robbin W. Thorp, Leif L. Richardson and Sheila R. Colla.
Thorp, a distinguished emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis, is also the co-author (along with Gordon Frankie, Rollin Coville, and Barbara Ertter) of California Bees and Blooms: A Guide for Gardeners and Naturalists. They offer great information on bee identification, but also crucial advice on how to attract and retain bees in your garden.
Happy Pollinator Week!/span>
It's often mistaken for a honey bee. Hey, isn't every floral visitor a bee? No, not by a long shot. One's a fly and one's a bee.
That came to mind last weekend when we saw a large number of honey bees (Apis mellifera) and drone flies (Eristalis tenax) nectaring on Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia). The feeding frenzy brought back all the Internet images of mistaken identities. And the arguments.
That's a bee!
No, it's not. It's a fly.
That's no fly. That's a bee.
It's a fly. Bee-lieve me!
To the untrained eye, they look alike at first glance. They're both insects, they're about the same size, and they're both pollinators.
The drone fly, though, in its immature stage is a rat-tailed maggot that lives in drainage ditches, hangs out around manure piles and sewage, and its idea of a pool party is water that is badly polluted.
Honey bees gather nectar and pollen (and water and propolis) for their colonies. Nectar is their carbohydrate and pollen is their protein.
Drone flies mimic bees in color, size and nectaring behavior. They're actually hover flies, members of the family Syrphidae. Watch them hover over flowers like a helicopter.
Lately, we've been seeing an influx of drone flies in our little pollinator garden. Look closely at their large eyes and stubby antennae and you can easily distinguish them from honey bees. Then notice the "H" on their abdomen. Maybe that's "H" for hello? Or "H" for Halloween? Or, or "H" as in "Hey, I'm not a bee! I just mimic a bee so you'll think I'll sting you."
They're bluffing. Drone flies don't sting.
If any insect should be the "cover girl" during National Pollinator Week, it ought to be the honey bee (Apis mellifera)
Specifically, it should be the worker bee, although the queen bee and drones (males) have their place, too.
But it's the worker bee, the forager, that basically works herself to death. She's out gathering nectar, pollen, propolis and water for her colony. She never calls in sick. She never punches a time card. She never protests. As soon as the temperature hits around 55 degrees, she leaves the warmth of the hive to go to work.
She might not return. She may run into pesticides, pests or predators (think spiders, praying mantids, wasps, birds and the like). She may wind up spending the night on a lavender blossom when it's too cold or too dark to return to the hive. She may have to fly five miles on ragged wings and in ragged weather carrying a load heavier than she is.
Once inside, she shares her bounty with the colony. She dances to let her sisters know where she found it. This isn't America's Got Talent--these dances are not for money or fame, but for purpose. "Hey, I just found a large quantity of lavender about two miles away. It's great quality. Let's go get more."
Her weapon is her stinger, but she uses that only in defense of the hive, or when something crushes her (like a human being that accidentally steps on her). She can't be compared to an assault weapon such as an AR-15 that can shoot 25 rounds in 2.5 seconds. One sting and she dies. One barbed sting and it's all over for her.
And she's beautiful, whether she's golden, light brown or gray-black.
The Journal of Economic Entomology, published by the Entomological Society of America, graced its June cover with a honey bee. It's of a forager heading toward a tower of jewels (Echium wildpretii). The background: I captured the image several years ago in my pollinator garden in Vacaville, as I watched, awestruck, as the worker bees turned the tower of jewels into a buzzing tower of bees. Oh, sure, bumble bees, carpenter bees, leafcutter bees, sweat bees, syrphids, butterflies and hummingbirds were working the blossoms, too, but it was this determined worker bee that caught my eye.
She probably died several weeks after that flight photo. Honey bees live only four to six weeks during the busy season. The queen bee, an egg-laying machine that can pump out 2000 eggs a day, quickly replaced her.
For a moment, though, as the bee headed for the tower of jewels, time stopped. The worker bee did not.
Happy National Pollinator Week!