Drone Fly

Seen in the garden in October.

Eristalis tenax, so named because it looks like a drone honeybee. It is a hoverfly variety that visits many garden flowers in summer and autumn. I have found them to frequent the Shasta Daisies and the coreopsis. There are over 6,000 species of hoverfly throughout the world.

Eristalis tenax, seen in the garden in June.

When they are flying, drone flies are sometimes mistaken for bees. They are useful pollinators distinguished from bees by their wings. When they are at rest, you can readily see that they have only one pair of wings, whereas bees have two pairs. They also have tiny antennae, another distinguishing factor.

They are seen on garden flowers harvesting nectar and pollen just like the bees. When you are out gardening, listen as they buzz around like bees. Notice too that many of them look like bees and wasps with yellow and black patterning. This form of mimicry is termed Batesian mimicry.

But they do not have the defensive behavior or weapons of the bees and wasps.

Some Syrphids are big and fuzzy like the bumblebees, whereas some are smooth and look similar to yellow jackets.

Hoverfly fuzzy like a Ginger Bumblebee

Drone Flies do not possess a stinger which is much different from the bees that they mimic. This is very useful looking like a dangerous insect like the two wasps below. Certain hoverflies look more similar to wasps than bees.


I hope the macro photos of the wasps don’t make you squeamish. They do make interesting photography subjects.

Ancistrocerus antilop, I think.

They lack the pollen baskets of bees, but the pollen adheres to their furry bodies, and is easily transported from plant to plant. In the image below, you can see the pollen stuck to the abdomen hairs of the fly.

The larvae of the Drone Fly feeds on decaying organic material in stagnant water, such as found in ponds and drainage ditches. Stagnant water contains little oxygen. The larvae address this with a long, thin breathing tube that extends from its hind end to the surface of the water, like  a snorkel. This appendage gives the larvae its common name of ‘rat-tailed maggot’. Maggots are one thing in nature I really don’t like much.

The Drone Fly is not native to North America but is a European import that arrived here prior to 1874. (source BugGuide ). While Drone Flies mimic bees, here in America we are developing technology that mimics bees and drone flies too.

The US military is developing micro drones, you know, those little bee-like robots. You all have heard of the drones we use in war-time in Iraq and Afghanistan. They rain down weaponry and surveillance from the sky above.

Remember my post on BEEbots?  Well the US has been accused of developing spy insects since 2007 as tiny remote-controlled flyers based on insect movement and physiology.

The University of Pennsylvania General Robotics, Automation, Sensing, and Perception Lab recently exhibited a network of “20 nano quadrotors” flying in coordinated formations forming a network of flying robots. This was what I was assuming would be the most difficult of tasks for the Beebots. Apparently it has been solved and you can see them in action in the link above.

The insect drones will have bee-like hairs to identify biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, too. That seems like a very beneficial service they will provide. So Drone Flies mimic bees, and now the military will be mimicking the Drone Flies…

Check out the YouTube video below. It is actually a mechanical hummingbird with a small camera on its head, and is pretty remarkable in bird-like appearance and flight too.

So drones will be everywhere soon. Well just maybe. Being tiny, you conspiracy theory types just might find them buzzing around your corporate computers. The applications for the ‘insect’ is endless in the spy business. Me, I like the real bees better.

My next post starts a series on images with thoughts. Stay tuned!

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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16 Responses to Drone Fly

  1. What science won’t think of…I am always amazed at how science fiction is right on target just a bit ahead or maybe not cloaked in secrecy… fabulous insect pics…found an interesting bee on the fall crocus this weekend… pollinators were scarce but we are getting a warm up to the 70s later this week so we should see more again…

  2. AMAZING photos, especially fourth and tenth down!

  3. bethstetenfeld says:

    That technology is incredible–as are your photos! I saw a couple of the drone flies mating on my Mums this weekend. It amazes me that they’re still around after the cold nights. Now they’ll have a couple more days of mild weather and then …

  4. Emily Heath says:

    I see a lot of posts by people on WordPress who think the drone flies are bees. An easy way to tell the difference is that flies have two wings, whereas bees have four. The eyes are also different – drone flies tend to have bigger eyes than honey bees. It’s true that honey bee drones have bigger eyes than their worker bee sisters, but they will not be found on flowers, as their sisters feed them within the hive.

  5. I had never heard of drone flies before. If it looked like a bee, I thought it was a bee. Thanks for the great information.

  6. HolleyGarden says:

    How very interesting! I have heard of drones being used in the military, but I didn’t realize how small they were! Great photos, and good information. I’ll have to look at my ‘bees’ a little closer now!

  7. b-a-g says:

    Just wondering if they are prone to the same disease that’s killing off the honey bees.

  8. Andrea says:

    I don’t know if we have these insects, i am not familiar with them. But your macro shots are always very beautiful and vivid. I will also think they are bees.

  9. Nice post…I love the Syrphids! PS I think your fuzzy ginger one is actually a Bombyliid. Bombylius major is the most abundant species, but it is hard to tell from the photo.

  10. What a fascinating post. I especially liked the video of the 20 drones flying in formation. I will have to be checking my pollinators for one or two wings.

  11. thequeenofseaford says:

    Very interesting, I see so many different bee type insects….. will have to pay better attention to whether they have one or two pairs of wings.

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