A Bee Eating Another Bee?

Laphria4

No, not a bee eating a bee. Even better! This is a bee-mimicking robber fly, Laphria, feeding on a honey bee. The fly casually alighted next to me in the garden this afternoon, as though it wanted to be photographed with a trophy kill.

Laphria is an exemplary bumble bee mimic. The flies not only look like bumble bees, they move and sound like them as well.

Laphria3


photo details:
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro lens on a Canon EOS 7D
ISO 400/800, f/14, 1/125 sec
diffuse off-camera strobe, handheld overhead

17 thoughts on “A Bee Eating Another Bee?”

  1. From a front view, it is indeed a fly’s face; but the first, side view photo had me just boggled by the exactness of the mimicry.

  2. Yellow pile in front of wings and halteres, mostly black mystax and beard, legs with variable rusty hair. The abdomen is variable, and ranges from all black to banded with yellow like this individual. L. thoracica is one of the most common species of Laphria in the east, and it is easily recognized with experience. Stephen Bullington has a website with lots of information on this fascinating genus.

    http://users.usachoice.net/~swb/laphriini/index.htm

    1. Hi Ben,

      Thanks for the link to the Bullington site. There is a large Laphria here in central Alberta – presumably in the Bombomima group that Bullington hasn’t reviewed yet. I think it is Laphria janus McAtee, 1918. There is a picture at this link about 2/3rds of the way down:
      http://homebuggarden.blogspot.ca/2010/11/aculeata-agonistes-bombus-squared-gone.html

      It is doing a pretty good job of looking like some of the common local bumble bee patterns such as Bombus rufocinctus and flavifrons. Have you seen any papers on variation in colour pattern in Laphria?

      Cheers,

      Dave

      1. Bromley’s 1934 PhD thesis (The Laphriine Robber Flies of North America) mentions some regional variation in the bumblebee species mimicry of the various Laphria. It should be available online from OSU at this link. The old name Bombomima is the group that is currently on Bullington’s page as Laphria s. str. According to Bullington’s 1986 PhD, the fly currently known as Laphria janus belongs in a separate genus. The new genera he named are currently unpublished.

    1. Yep, but they probably find a chink in the armor, like where hard parts are joined together by thinner cuticle.
      I have handled lots of big robber flies, and never had any problems with them trying to pierce me. I still keep an eye on them, though.

  3. That’s amazing mimicry. Down to the way the wings fold and the bald spot on the back. I’ve been hanging around a lot of bees but have never seen one of these. Gives me something to look forward to.

  4. I like how these flies are so unafraid of me when collecting insects, some even seems to follow me around, guess it has to do with me stirring their prey for them to catch in flight. Asilids in general are pretty amazing, for being non-hymenopterans that is 😉

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