Book on bees of the world has a mimetic fly on the cover – update

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.

h/t: Michael

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)


  1. phoffman56
    Posted July 27, 2016 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    Hamlet, had he published his speech on bees, would never make that mistake!

  2. Posted July 27, 2016 at 1:45 pm | Permalink

    While hover flies are the usual suspects when it comes to bee & wasp mimics, that’s not a hover fly on the cover; it’s a muscid in the genus Mesembrina.

  3. W.Benson
    Posted July 27, 2016 at 1:47 pm | Permalink

    The book, from 1991, gets good reader reviews at Amazon. I am unfamiliar with the publisher. I doubt that the authors chose the cover photo, at least I hope not.

    • tubby
      Posted July 27, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

      I thought covers are usually done by the publisher, along with nearly every other pre-print job.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted July 27, 2016 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        Yes, this is what I was going to go with as well.

      • Posted July 27, 2016 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        In every case I’m familiar with, the author gets a lock at and has some approval rights of the cover. Certainly that’s the case for me. It would be extraordinary of the authors of this book never even SAW the cover. And if they did, they would have stopped it instantly.

        • Tim Harris
          Posted July 27, 2016 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

          Those eyes! They ain’t a bee’s eyes! I honestly cannot see how anyone who takes an interest in bees could make that mistake…

          • Diane G.
            Posted July 28, 2016 at 5:38 am | Permalink

            Agree! It’s the classic fly-face that never lets the bee-mimicry fool me.

  4. rickflick
    Posted July 27, 2016 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    Ha. The Update is worth a chuckle. No one is immune from error. Some, however, would never concede the point. Some, bless ’em, would.

    • Posted July 27, 2016 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

      In my own defense, I’d add that Strawbridge is a bee expert, and I relied on her characterization of the insect as a hoverfly. But my own big error was in calling it a mimic, when it’s not very mimetic!

  5. Alan
    Posted July 27, 2016 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

    The NY Times made the same mistake in February which was pointed out (tweeted) by David Haskell

  6. Posted July 27, 2016 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    I’ll just add a link to this bug book. Anyone familiar with beetles (or stink bugs) will understand.

    • G. McNett
      Posted July 27, 2016 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      Did the link I copied into the “website” field not post? Anyhow, people can Google the book “Beetles” by Nicole Helget and check out the cover. Similar error.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted July 27, 2016 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

        I’ll give it a try:


        • Mark Sturtevant
          Posted July 27, 2016 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

          Aaargh!! My eyes!!! I cannot un-see the error.

        • Diane G.
          Posted July 28, 2016 at 5:40 am | Permalink

          HOW do these errors ever happen??!! Surely the author gets to view the proposed cover before publication!

      • JohnnieCanuck
        Posted July 28, 2016 at 2:05 am | Permalink

        Oh your “website” link posted all right. It worked exactly as designed. Your name for your comment number 6. does indeed link to ‘your’ website, or at least what you declared to be your website.

        That god of tpyos is working overtime on the entries in this post. Wonder what she has for me.

        Bemused, I am.

        • JohnnieCanuck
          Posted July 28, 2016 at 2:15 am | Permalink

          Amazon, on the gripping hand, doesn’t recognise that link anyway.

          infiniteimprobabilit has it right. A $24 children’s book on beetles?

  7. Frank
    Posted July 27, 2016 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

    I was once taking an online “Studio” lesson through Rosetta Stone, strictly in Italian, with one other student and the teacher. Within an array of objects we were asked to identify, there was a “honeybee”. When my teacher pointed to it with her cursor and asked me to talk about it, I had to point out that it was not a bee (un’ape), but a honeybee-mimicking fly – una mosca (even if you didn’t look at the wings, the eyes and antennae were a dead giveaway). I had to struggle to try to point out these things in Italian, but we all had a good laugh over it. I’m sure that “bee” photo had been presented to students thousands of times, and perhaps still is.

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 5:42 am | Permalink

      Jeez, it just goes on and on.

  8. jeffery
    Posted July 27, 2016 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Who was that Turkish wackko cult leader who wrote a book against evolution and one of the insect photos was a fishing lure?

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 27, 2016 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, that one immediately came to mind, though I couldn’t remember his name. In that case though, the hook was clearly visible.

      (Google google…) Adnan Oktar.
      See if this link works –

      (Here’s a link to the blog, just for attribution):


    • Posted July 27, 2016 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

      It was Adnan Oktar (Harun Yahya), and I have a copy of the book, complete with the fishing lure photo. I think every biologist in the U.S. got one.

      • W.Benson
        Posted July 27, 2016 at 8:22 pm | Permalink

        All of “Harun Yahya’s” books seem to be available for download at archive-org. But careful; there is probably an LD-50.

  9. Posted July 27, 2016 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Ahahaha – I love cases like this, awesome.

    I was once at a conference where a friend gave a talk about her work on plants living in symbiosis with and being defended by ants, and it had a slide of termites to illustrate the ants.

    And I remember seeing a nature documentary on TV years ago that was talking about “these colourful beetles mating” while showing a pair of true bugs. Admittedly nature docs are pretty much always bad about that, e.g. using a voice reel with Australian temperate sclerophyll forest sounds (Kookaburra!) with footage from South American tropical rainforest and suchlike.

  10. somer
    Posted July 27, 2016 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    It just totally Looks like a fly to me!

  11. Kit Prendergast
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    I pointed this in a facebook post on the photo accompanying this Guardian article –
    This is terrible…but so is the reporting – the photo is of bee mimic FLIES, not bees =s *facepalm* … not even in the same insect order (Diptera vs Hymenoptera)

    Clearly, I was not the only taxonomist facepalming as it has now been amended
    – The article was amended on 27 July. It was originally published with an incorrect picture of hoverflies.

  12. Karl Magnacca
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 2:45 am | Permalink

    It’s an on-demand reprint version from a knockoff publisher who doesn’t give a damn. The original is out of print and has a picture of bees on the cover (presumably these people obtained the rights at some point).

    • Diane G.
      Posted July 28, 2016 at 5:44 am | Permalink


  13. Diane G.
    Posted July 28, 2016 at 5:49 am | Permalink

    Reminds me of a recent WaPo article about the critical condition of the nation’s honey bee hives and the threat to agriculture this poses. The first illustration was of a huge midwestern cornfield, with a legend proclaiming that “fields like these” were critically dependent on honeybees. I was one of I assume hundreds to let them know that corn is wind pollinated.

    (When it’s pollinated at all–see, “detasseling.”)

  14. Posted July 29, 2016 at 12:54 pm | Permalink


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