Saturday, November 30, 2013

Hoverfly Batesian mimicry

At first glance, the insect visiting this Chrysanthemum flower looks just like a honeybee - but on closer inspection you can see the insect has a lot of the characteristics you'd expect to see on a fly: a single pair of wings, short antenna, and sucking mouth parts.  This insect is in fact a hoverfly! Also known as a flower fly or a syrphid fly, this European species of hoverfly (Eristalis arbustorum) is incapable of stinging, but is definitely converging on the morphology (shape, color, etc.) of a honeybee.  This form of mimicry is also known as Batesian mimicry - when a non-toxic palatable species looks like a toxic non-palatable species.  What is even more amazing is that the hoverfly, honeybee, and Chrysanthemum are all exotic (or non-native) species here in the central valley of California!  Here's a cool paper by Pfenning et al. 2001.