A Bee Is a Bee Is a Bee,,,

Mar 14, 2016

If poet Gertrude Stein were alive today, she might say "A bee is a bee is a bee" instead of "a rose is a rose is a rose."

Or, she might say "A fly is a fly is a fly."

Oh, my.

That's because major corporations, news media and people-who-should-know-or-who-should-at-least-fact-check are still confusing honey bees with flies.

May Berenbaum, 2016 president of the 7000-member Entomological Society of America (ESA) and a National Medal of Science recipient, recently received a solicitation letter from a well-known nature corporation asking her to help the honey bees.

All's well and good, right? Wrong. The photo on the envelope was not of her beloved honey bee. It was a photo of a fly. A syrphid fly.


Never send a fly to an ESA president, the top of the entomological chain, and claim it's a bee.

Apparently this corporation--okay, the Sierra Club, as this is all over the Internet--obtained the "bee" photo from someone who could not distinguish certain species in the order Hymenoptera (which includes honey bees) and the order Diptera (flies). The drone fly, Eristalis tenax, is often confused with the honey bee, Apis mellifera. To entomologists, it's like confusing an elephant with a giraffe.

Berenbaum, who also has a keen sense of humor, posted a blurb on her Facebook page about the fly.

"Really, Sierra Club? You send a letter asking to help save honeybees with a photo of a syrphid fly on the envelope?" (She also pointed out that "honey bee" is two words, not one.)

That drew all kinds of comments:

  • Save the syrphids!!!
  • Is there a syrphid that mimics a honey bee? Maybe they fell for it.
  • That is so terrible it's almost wonderful.
  • Personally, I'm wondering who the heck is taking all of the pictures of syrphids!! Aren't bees a lot more common?
  • I may have to use this in my next lecture about mimicry and how successful it can be, even against visual-based predators.
  • May and I were close friends in high school and, I'm pretty sure that she is the smartest person I've ever met.
  • Well, Eristalis tenax is just such a great mimic, I am proud of that species!
  • I see images of bumble bees with "Save the Honeybee" on stickers. Kind of like "Save the Cow" with a picture of a bison, or worse. How to offer professional advice/fact checking for articles/media? Would love to do it!
  • That's funny and sad at the same time!
  • There are so many syrphid photos that have been used as bees, I begin to wonder if most people really don't know what bees look like!

But my favorite:
So we were sitting at the dinner table and a friend said "If only someone was running for president who was worth voting for."
Without missing a beat, my daughter said "What about May Berenbaum?"
You've now been duly nominated.

What do you think?