Have you ever seen a bee and thought it looked slightly different? Chances are, you may have encountered one of the many insects that look like bees but aren’t actually bees. While technically classified as bugs or flies, bee mimics often have the same color, shape, and even behavior as their buzzing cousins.
However, upon closer inspection, you’ll be able to tell that these imposters aren’t bees at all. Explore this list of 9 bugs and flies that look like bees to learn more about these tiny master mimics!
Flies That Look Like Bees But Aren’t
Flies are characterized by their mobile head, large compound eyes, and mouthparts designed for lapping and sucking. These insects belong to the order Diptera, meaning they have only two wings. Some fly species can be mistaken for bees due to their coloration, marking, and buzzing noise. Some of the bee species mimicked by flies are bumblebees, honeybees, and wool carder bees. Below is a detailed list of some fly species that mimic the appearance of various bees:
1. Hoverflies (Syrphidae)
With yellow and black markings, hoverflies are one of the most convincing bee look-alikes. Their yellow bands are so similar to those of a honeybee! They even mimic the sound created by buzzing honeybees when they flap their wings in flight! As their name suggests, they also hover over flowers and move quickly from one to another — something which honeybees do, too!
However, they cannot sting, making them entirely harmless. Another subtle difference distinguishing them from bumblebees or honeybees is their antennae and number of wings. Hoverflies have short antennae, while most bee species have long antennae. In addition, they have only one pair of wings, while bees have two pairs. Unlike typical bees, hoverflies have large heads with marbled black eyes.
2. Bee Flies (Bombyliidae)
Bee flies are small insects with stout bodies that look very similar in appearance to brown carder bumblebees or male hairy-footed flower bees. Like bees, they have yellow, black, or brown hairy bodies and transparent or patterned wings with dark stripes. They also have long proboscises, which they use to feed on pollen or nectar from flowers. Unlike bees, which tuck their proboscises when not in use, bee flies keep theirs outstretched.
On the other hand, bee flies don’t have stingers or the ability to make honey and hover in mid-air. Moreover, unlike bees with two pairs of wings, bee flies have only one pair of wings. Another giveaway is their wide waist, shorter antennae, and long, thin legs. They also don’t have mandibles for biting like bees.
3. Parasitic Flies (Tachinidae)
Parasitic flies are easily mistaken for bumblebees or wool carder bees due to their strikingly yellow side appearance. These insects are important pollinators. Parasitic flies are not called so for nothing. They are known for their unique ability to lay eggs on other insects, such as caterpillars and grasshoppers. Once the eggs hatch and larvae emerge, they feed on their host tissues.
Tachinidae differ from bees in a few ways, such as having bulb-like heads, short antennae, and a single pair of non-folding wings. While bees are hairy, most parasitic flies are bristly-looking. Finally, they have no mandibles, and their waists are wide.
4. Bee Beetle (Trichius fasciatus)
Bee beetles, or Trichius fasciatus, have hairy heads and a yellow and black coloration that makes them resemble carder bees and small bumblebees. Their notable difference from bees is that they have hard forewings that protect their flying wings, while bees have translucent wings. Size-wise, bee beetles are usually smaller than bees. They are found in gardens, meadows, and flowery areas, particularly around roses and thyme flowers.
5. Wasps (Apocrita)
You may wonder how wasps come into the mix. This species of insect is the bee’s closest relative. Similar to bees, wasps have two pairs of developed wings. They also have a narrow ‘waist’ resulting from the constriction between the thorax and abdomen. Bees also have a narrow waist, but a wasp’s waist is even slimmer, giving the insect an overall more streamlined appearance.
Compared to bees, wasps are brightly colored with a broader range of color variations. Wasps lack the dense hair bees have, and their hairs aren’t branched. It’s easy to identify wasps by observing their behavior. To feed their larvae, wasps become scavengers and predators—they hunt for other insects. They also feed on nectar.
6. Yellowjackets or Hornets
The striking resemblance between yellowjackets and hornets can be quite deceiving. They are both species of wasps and have yellow and black stripes, similar to honey bees. However, a close-up observation will reveal some key differences. For one, yellowjackets and hornets lack hairy bodies like the honey bee and feature a more glossy texture.
Another notable difference between them is their size. In addition to that, they have no pollen baskets. Also, in terms of behavior, yellowjacket and hornets are aggressive and can sting you multiple times without provocation. In contrast, honey bees are docile creatures and only sting when threatened. Unlike bees, yellowjackets and hornets not only depend on nectar but also prey on smaller insects.
7. Cicada Killers (Sphecius)
If you see a large, solitary wasp flying around your yard, it’s likely a cicada killer. As their name suggests, they prey on cicadas, which they then use to provision their nests. Cicada killers are solitary wasps characterized by their glossy, long, and ovate black bodies with yellow bands. The most glaring difference between cicada killers and bees is that the former has brick-red eyes, red-orangish legs, and one pair of light brown wings. Though females have a stinger, cicada killers are not aggressive toward humans, and females only sting if provoked. In contrast to wasps and honey bees, they do not have nest-guarding instincts.
8. Common Drone Flies (Eristalis tenax)
This bee mimic is often mistaken for a small honeybee, thanks to its fuzzy body and brown and yellow-orange markings. You can usually spot this fly hovering near brightly-colored flowers, feeding on flower nectar. Another physical trait that makes it hard to tell a common drone fly from a honey bee is the dark brown coloring that both insects share. However, these mimicry specialists have a single pair of wings, while honeybees have two. Another key difference is that male drone flies have larger compound eyes than honeybees.
9. Raspberry Crown Borers (Pennisetia marginata)
The raspberry crown borer may look like a bee, but it’s actually a type of moth with yellow and black stripes. Like bees, moths have bodies covered in dense hairs. One difference between them is that the raspberry crown borers have feathered antennae despite their slender bee-like appearance. It is also easy to spot a raspberry crown borer since its wings rest at its side, whereas a bee’s wings are flat on its body. This unique feature helps the moth protect itself from predators, making it look like a wasp or yellowjacket rather than a moth.
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- North Dakota State University Extension, Available here: https://www.ndsu.edu/agriculture/extension/publications/insects-look-bees
- Michigan State University Extension, Available here: https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/insects-that-look-like-bees
- Farm Food Family, Available here: https://farmfoodfamily.com/flies-that-look-like-bees/
- Bee Spotter, Available here: https://beespotter.org/topics/mimics/