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6 Bees That Aren't Actually Bees (With Photos)

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Amazing Bee Mimics in Your Garden!

The insects in this particle all have one thing in common: they want you, and everyone else, to think that they can sting. The fact is, they can't – every one of these 6 cool bee mimics is only pretending to be dangerous.

As you look around your yard or garden, pay close attention to the insects that appear to be bees or wasps. Flies, beetles, and moths all have species that resemble stinging insects, and some are such good mimics that they can sometimes fool experts. Even though these bugs do not have a stinger and are not even related to bees or wasps, they have evolved to look like they do. This protects them from predators.

Let's have a look at some very convincing insect "con artists"!

Bumblebee sphinx moth

Bumblebee sphinx moth

1. Bumblebee Sphinx Moth

To see one of these totally harmless moths buzzing from flower to flower on a sunny afternoon, you would naturally assume that it's a bumblebee. You may also give it a wide pass, since bumblebees can sting. You're not alone, since these bee-mimic moths have been fooling everyone for eons. Even experienced naturalists can be taken in.

One guaranteed way to tell if you're dealing with a moth or a bee is to listen. Bees buzz; moths can't. If the furry "bee" you're watching is operating in silence, then it's almost certainly some kind of moth, not a bee.

A hornet mimic fly

A hornet mimic fly

2. Hornet Fly

Like all of the insects in this article, the hornet fly has evolved to look exactly like a venomous insect. The fly is the mimic; the bee is the model. The more closely the harmless fly resembles its model, the venomous hornet, the more protection from predators like lizards and mice it is likely to achieve.

Flies often mimic bees, but there's one key physiological difference: bees and four wings, like a butterfly, and flies only have two. This lets us easily distinguish between the two, right? Well, not so fast. The hornet mimic fly is one step ahead. The fly's wing is shaded in such a way that each single ing appears to be two separate wings, like a real wasp. Nature truly is amazing.

A Japanese beetle in flight

A Japanese beetle in flight

3. Japanese Beetle

This well-known invasive pest species is now present throughout North America. They occur in groups, and are especially fond of rose bushes – they can quickly ruin blossoms, chew up leaves, and leave the plant weakened and exposed to disease and the environment. All in all, Japanese beetles are bad news.

It's too bad, because if these insects were not such a pest they might be held in high regard for their beauty. Even though they're small, Japanese beetles are gorgeous, with metallic copper and green wing covers and white-speckled bodies. When they fly, they buzz, and their body markings make them look like a bee – or at least, not like a perfectly harmless little beetle!

A day-flying wasp moth

A day-flying wasp moth

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4. Wasp Moth

Like the bumblebee moth (above) the wasp moth is 100% harmless. It relies on its uncanny resemblance to a dangerous stinging insect, relying on the model insect's fearsome reputation to protect it from nervous predators.

There are many, many moth species that fly during the day and resemble wasps or bees – in the American Tropics, there are some that are so convincing that even a professional entomologist would need a minute or two to make sure they can tell what they're dealing with. Since moths don't buzz, this is a little easier than some other insects, like beetles and especially flies, that are very good at both looking and sounding like a bee.

Mantisfly wasp mimic

Mantisfly wasp mimic

5. Mantidfly

These little-noticed insects are actually very common and widespread, found everywhere from Canadian forests to African jungles. They don't all look like the one pictured – many are small, pale, and fragile. However some, like the species Climaciella brunnea (pictured) are quite accurate mimics of wasps.

With their wasp-like form and powerful mantis-like predator front legs, mantidflies are among the oddest, and also intimidating, insects out there. Never mind that they're seldom as much as an inch long – many wasps are much smaller than that, and you wouldn't want to hold one in your hand no matter what its size!

Bee fly

Bee fly

6. Bee Fly

These super-furry little guys are among the first insects to show their faces in early spring. They often visit flowers, and they hover in front of the blossom and poke a long proboscis, or feeding tube, into the flower while hovering in mid-air. For this reason, these and many related flies are often called "hoverflies."

Even though they look like a bee and buzz like a bee, hoverflies are completely harmless. They are not even related to bees, belonging to a completely different family, or insect group. But most predators take one look, assume the worst, and give the defenseless little fly a pass.

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This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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