Matthew Cobb, who does social media, called my attention to a post today by environmentalist and writer Brigid Strawbridge; it’s about a book on the world’s bees. Here it is. Notice anything strange? Hint: count the wings:
Bees, in the order Hymenoptera, have four wings, like this:
What we see above on the cover of Bees of the World, an authoritative reference book, is a fly: a hoverfly—or “syrphid”—to be exact. Strawbridge’s post points this out, and explains why the authors might have made the error.
Hoverflies are in the order Diptera, which means “two wings”; and of course all flies, like the one on the cover, have two wings. I’m not sure how this slipped past the authors, but one reason is that these hoverflies are Batesian mimics: harmless flies that have evolved to resemble an insect (a bee in this case) avoided by predators. Many species of syrphids, as Matthew Cobb pointed out in an earlier post, mimic bees and wasps. Here’s a big group of syrphids that are Batesian mimics. The one on the upper left is especially convincing. And, as Matthew pointed out, syrphids can mimic the behavior of hymenoptera as well, further deluding potential predators.
When Brigit pointed out the embarrassing cover illustration in her post, she added this:
However, the internet is awash with wonderful, well researched, articles about bees that have been illustrated with photographs of hoverflies.
She goes on to explain Batesian mimicry, but since I’ve done that here several times before, I’m sure you all understand it.
UPDATE: There’s undoubtedly a name for the taxonomic version of the well known phenomenon of someone complaining about a typo or some other error, and including an error of their own. We – and Brigit Strawbridge – are guilty of exactly this error. For, as pointed out in the comments below and on Twitter by Morgan Jackson, the fly on the cover of the Bee book is *not* a hoverfly. It’s a muscid, and is NOT a mimic, as close inspection reveals. Nostra culpa. That having been said, many media outlets do indeed illustrate articles about bees and wasps with pictures of hoverflies. And while that is annoying to taxonomists (almost as annoying as mixing up a muscid and a syrphid), and can be used to tut-tut at the ignorance of photo editors and journalists, it also underlines the fact that these are often amazing mimics, which can fool a lot of the people, a lot of the time. – MC, p.p. PCC(E)