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One bad dude

December 19, 2018

There aren’t that many weeks left in the year. I thought I might use that fascinating observation as a excuse to post some photos that I had taken this year but had not used. Next week, you might get that post. But while combing through a year’s worth of photos, I ran into this striking fellow (or gal). I don’t remember taking the photo. All I know is that is was taken in May and I wasn’t out photographing for the blog because I took only two photos that day. Both of this guy.

First impression, it’s a bee. But it’s not quite right as a bee. The eyes are wrong. Bees have bigger eyes and they kind of meet in the middle. The wings are weird, too. That must have been why I photographed him in the first place.

Turns out, my friend is a robber fly. In particular, a wasp-mimic robber fly (Laphria saffrana). 

Usually, when an insect patterns itself after another insect, it is seeking protection by looking less tasty. Monarch butterflies are toxic, so lots of other insects try to look like monarchs, hoping predators will think they are toxic as well. Since this guy was doing his best bee impression, I began by thinking that this insect was looking for a measure of protection by pretending the be dangerous. Wrong. Very wrong. 

This critter is such a bad-ass that he dresses up as a bee to look less deadly than he really is. He looks like a bee to improve his chances of killing one. Or another fly, or a wasp, or a dragonfly, or anything else that happens to fly by. There are hundreds of species of robber flies in the world. Most of them look nothing like bees. But all of them are stone killers. Even in their larval stages, when they are sort of worms with just a hint of legs, they are killing the other larva around them. And the way adult robber flies kill their prey is hair-raising. 

Robber flies have a pointy, rigid snout which they stick into an insect they’ve grabbed hold of. Through this snout, now inside the victim, the robber fly dribbles saliva. Gross. Also deadly and not nearly as gross as what’s coming. 

The saliva contains two chemicals. One paralyzes the victim, the other dissolves all its internal organs quickly enough that the robber fly just waits there, snout in, until everything is a nice tasty liquid. Then he slurps it up through that ungodly snout.  

In comparison, fava beans with a nice chianti sounds downright inviting. 

Next week, pretty photos. I’m almost certain.