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What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Ed. Note:  February 21, 2014
It has just come to our attention that this is one of the rarest North American Robber Flies,
Dasylechia atrox, and more information can be found on BugGuide.

Carnivorous bumble bee?
Location: Royal Oak, MI
August 2, 2011 2:15 pm
We have a honey bee hive in our yard and have been very bug friendly. We have cicada killing wasps in our driveway and we just steer clear of them instead of filling it with concrete.
Imagine my shock when I was hanging laundry out and saw one of our honey bees having the life drained out of it by what appears to be a bumble bee. Is it?
Signature: Jessica

Rare Robber Fly: Dasylechia atrox eats Honey Bee

Hi Jessica,
We absolutely love your email, and we would like to wax poetically after we answer your question.  This is a Robber Fly.  It is one of two genera that both feed on large flying insects including bees and wasps that are captured on wing.  Robber Flies are amazing hunters.  They do not sting.  They will not attack you and bite you, but they might bite you if you tried to pick one up, though we could not imagine how you would ever be able to catch one.  We cannot, based on your photo, determine if this is a Bee Killer in the genus
Mallophora, or a Bee-Like Robber Fly in the genus Laphria.  One of the ways they can be distinguished from one another is the shape of the antennae.  Your specimen appears to have antennae that end in fine filaments, a sign it is a Mallophora, however, upon enlarging the photo to better examine the details, your photo is not of high enough resolution to maintain image quality.  Your individual does not have markings similar to any of the five species represented on BugGuide, which makes us wonder if it might not be a Laphria, and based on the photos posted to BugGuide, there are several species with markings similar to your individual.  They seem to all have yellow beards, and it is not possible to make out the beard on your Robber Fly, though we are not sure if the black hairs are lost in the shadow or if the tasty Honey Bee meal is obscuring the beard.

Robber Fly eats Honey Bee


August 3, 2011
Hi again Jessica,
We are positively enthralled by the way you set the tone for your question by providing us with your bug friendly qualifications.  We would like to take additional time to comment on your mention of Cicada Killers.  We have devoted considerable internet real estate on our site toward lobbying for the preservation of Cicada Killers, and when we receive post-mortem images of them, we tag them as unnecessary carnage, but the fact of the matter is that we have never had to share our homes and yards with them.  We really cannot claim to have experienced first hand the communal nesting habits of these large wasps.  We applaud you for your tolerance and also for inquiring about this Robber Fly.  Since we began working on this posting, we have received another unidentifiable image of a large Robber Fly feeding on a Japanese Beetle, and the person who submitted that image wants to know how to encourage more of them.  These large Robber Flies are reported to be able to consume large quantities of Honey Bees, and for that reason, they have a bad reputation among bee keepers.  Thanks again for your wonderful submission.  

Thank you so much for the information. We try not to have knee jerk reactions to what we find in the yard and as the cicada killers are nonaggressive unless you happen to be a cicada, there was no reason to destroy their habitat. It’s a short two month inconvenience of my daughters running to the door from the driveway while screaming.
As for the robber flies, they may be a bit of a bother as we are beekeepers. We have already lost one hive to varroa mites a couple of years ago and would rather not lose another one. Now that I think about it, we have spotted a few smaller species of robber flies in our yard. We have never had these insects in our yard before. Do you think the beehive may be attracting them? Is there any way to humanely deter them from eating my bees?

Hi again Jessica,
We have no advice regarding the deterring of Robber Flies.  The smaller Robber Flies are most likely not preying on your bees, and the larger Robber Flies will not enter the hive.  They will attack individual bees that are in flight.  Good Luck.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

paper wasps and alien fungal spaceship?
Location: Ocean Beach, CA
July 27, 2011 6:18 pm
JULY 27, 2011
This is the 2nd year our yard is well-populated by old-bamboo-fiber-stripping lawn-level cruising maybe paper-wasps of some sort judging by looks and behavior.
Visually back-tracking them to their apparent home in a 30+ ft high mature date palm a half block away we discovered a very disconcerting structure.
We don’t know if the structure is related to the wasps or not because we can’t get up there (and frankly don’t want to without hazmat gear), but – well, you can see in the images that it’s highly coincidental.
So, omniscient entomologistas: Paper Wasps? European neo-bauhaus nest? Alien fungal growth?
ps: the city vector crew were nonplussed and apathetic, equally.
Signature: mrobertson

Thing with Bees

Hi again mrobertson,
We have already addressed the European Paper Wasp image you supplied, and we can say with assurance that this mysterious “alien fungal growth” is not related to the wasps, however, it does appear to have two insects flying toward it and though it is difficult to make out details, those insects have the same general appearance of Honey Bees.  Honey Bees do have a somewhat distinctive carriage while in flight, and the insects in the photo are consistent with that shape.  There also appears to be another insect that might be a Honey Bee crawling on the “thing”.  While this “thing” looks nothing like a honeycomb, it might somehow be related to a bee hive, but we are not sure how.  Perhaps the tree originally held the nest of a woodpecker, and dripping sap hardened and created the shape under the hole.  Bees might have moved into the vacant hole after the woodpecker left.  We will try to contact Eric Eaton to see if he has any thoughts on this matter.  For now, we will tag this as a mystery.  We have also taken the liberty of creating a composite of the two flying insects so that they appear closer together in the enlarged version than they are in the original photograph.

Honey Bees or UFOs????

Apis and Inherent Omniscience
Dear Daniel,
Thank you for your time and effort.
Re omniscient: Not flattery, but an expression of hope – and thinking more along the lines of “inherent omniscience”, i.e., “the ability to know anything you choose to know that can be known” (various) and hoping that you would find out and choose to tell me as well. However let us not delve into teleological nomenclature but instead hear me admit that – I was afraid those were bees and your observation largely honks hours of patient sleuthing. Dang.
In 25 years here in Ocean Beach my madly ornithological ladyfriend has never seen or heard a woodpecker. We do however know what makes the holes:

What’s That Parrot??

after which they nest in them of course.
Date Palm trunks don’t have sticky sap that would run, nor are their cellulose interiors in any way green or anything but white-ish.
I have read somewhere – LSU ento site? That some indwelling wasps may wet and soften the material of a wood enclosure (such as the studs in your walls or a tree cavity), chew the wood up and force it out of cracks or holes to allow the nest to expand – which may form strange extruded shapes.
But these are bees, right? Maybe they weren’t always bees…
Working at the limit of our prosumer cameras from a neighbors elevated driveway a hundred feet away we got a few more revealing images of the “weird thing”.

“Thing” might be expanding foam (see comments)

I feel the “thing” is associated with the hive – you can see damaged or melted comb cells or something like that. In one still inadequate image you can see what appears to be a bee on the lip of the “thing”. In another, darker image – the mass appears to have the glow of encaustic wax.
I don’t see any significant difference in the structural shape between the March and July images – and we had some serious rain which lends to a theory of water resistance.
I cut the “thing” image out, dragged it into a google image search box  – and that worthy AI returned images of cast busts of heads of Paul Tillich, John Gorton of Australia, an asian deity, assorted meteoric stone – and diving way down  – a Jurassic Termite Nest of sedimentary rock.
Oh well. Someday.
Finally, for the goosebumply thrill of it – an all time horrorshow yellowjacket nest image  – from upper Michigan I believe:
one which makes me reflexively grab for my Epi-Pen.
Curiously yours,
[edit note: Edit, Cut, Paste, Ignore. Download any image you might wish to use or save rather than linking, as things in that dropbox are not permalink. MSU EDU image not mine]

Yellow Jacket Nest in Car (from MSU)

Hi Again mrobertson,
Thanks for the wonderful update.  We believe the image of the Honey Bee on the “Thing” supports our theory that there is a bee hive there.  Perhaps you didn’t notice the comment provided by Aariq who wrote:  “To me it looks almost like someone tried to get rid of the wasps by sealing up their hole with expanding foam, and then they just ate holes through it. That’s awfully high up to go through that sort of effort though.


What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Ambush Bug Eating Honeybee
Location: Milton, VT, USA
June 25, 2011 8:56 am
I mentioned the Ambush Bug in my previous submission so I thought I would send you the photos of the one I saw that had ”ambushed” a honeybee in a Queen Anne’s Lace! The one I am holding is a second one that was in the next flower over. He/she had the coolest face I’ve ever seen on a bug (except for a cicada), kind of reminded me of a dinosaur. Anyway I hope you enjoy these, and I love this site. This site kept me from killing a pseudoscorpion I found in my closet that I thought was a tick!
Signature: Betsy

Ambush Bug eats Honey Bee

Hi Betsy,
Your letter inspired the entire editorial staff to go out and weed in the garden and observe insects on our grounds in Mt. Washington, Los Angeles.  Many of the species of insects in the east that frequent Queen Anne’s Lace also visit the flowering carrots in our our garden.  Pollinating insects love Queen Anne’s Lace and carrots as do predators that prey upon pollinating insects.  The staff began to feel guilty that computers were abandoned and emails and comments were left unanswered so we returned to the desk, but we only felt guilty enough to post your letter and wonderful photographs before immediately heading back outside to the sun and activity.

Ambush Bug

Thanks Daniel!  Your entire site today inspired me to go outside and take about 100 pictures of teeny tiny bugs!  I even spotted a spider the size of a pin head that had caught one of those little iridescent flies on a milkweed, a perfectly matched green grasshopper hiding in milkweed blossoms/leaves, and lots of mating beetles!  Our Queen Anne’s Lace hasn’t blossomed yet this year but I always look for the Goldenrod crab spiders and other interesting critters that reside in them on my walks.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Cold Honey Bee
Location: Missouri
December 24, 2010 1:34 am
I haven’t submitted anything in awhile…too busy and then it was too cold. I went looking for bugs this evening and found this Honey Bee holding on to our deck. I carefully moved it inside to a temporary studio I set up. I figured I’d try to get some really close shots and thought it was dead. As it warmed, it started to come back around and even stood up for the shot here. I promptly took a few images for a stack (5 in this image) and moved it back outside. Do you know if they hibernate or anything in the cold or does this guy face an inevitable doom in the near future?
Signature: Nathanael Siders

Honey Bee

Hi Nathanael,
We will try to answer you questions to the best of our ability.  During inclement weather, Honey Bees do not leave the hive.  During winter months in colder climates, Honey Bees will not leave the hive.  Your email did not indicate if there was snow on the ground, but on warm winter days, scouts might venture out to see if there is any food to be found.  We are not certain if staying in the hive through the winter constitutes hibernation.  Bees Online has this information:  “What do Honey Bees Do In The Cold Winter ?
Here in the Northeast of the United States it gets pretty cold in the winter. Honey Bees stop flying when the temperature drops down into the 50s (F). They stay inside their hive in what is called a winter cluster which means they get into a big huddle. There is no point to flying outside of the hive as there are no flowers in bloom, hence no pollen or nectar is available. The colder the temperature the more compact the cluster becomes.
The object of this clustering is to keep themselves warm, so warm that the temperature in the center of this cluster, where the Queen Bee stays, is kept at about 80 (F). The outer edge of the cluster is about 46 – 48 (F).
The worker bees create heat by shivering and they also move back and forth between the inner part of the cluster and the outer part. In this way no bee will freeze.
On nice sunny winter days you can see honey bees flying a short distance out of the hive and then quickly returning. Sometimes if they go too far out or stay out too long they can get chilled and will not be able to fly back into the hive. The object of these short flights is to eliminate body waste.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Honeybee Swarm Capture
Location: Portland Oregon
December 5, 2010 12:49 pm
We keep bees in Portland Oregon and capture swarms during ”swarm season” which is usually late March through June.
I thought you might enjoy a shot of a nice swarm we captured. In this shot we have cut it out of a tree. The swarm was about 20 ft up. We are getting ready to put it in a Langstroth style hive body and take them to their new home.
I want people to know that when honeybees swarm they are only looking for a new home and are very mellow. I have personally stood in the middle of swarms when they are flying and it is an amazing experience. There is nothing like 20,000 honeybees flying all around you. It’s wonderful.
A swarm looks intimidating but they are not interested in you at all. So if you see one please just leave them alone and call a local beekeeper. Don’t spray them with chemicals or otherwise harass them. Treat them with respect and care because without them we will starve.
I love your site and thank you for the great work you are doing.
Signature: Taborhood Honey

Honey Bee Swarm Capture

Dear Folks at Taborhood Honey,
Thank you for sending these exciting photographs and such good advice.  Every couple of years, we are lucky enough to see a swarm emerge from Elyria Canyon near our Mt Washington offices, and two and a half years ago, the swarm remained in the front yard for a few hours.  We agree it was quite exciting.

Honey Bee swarm transfered to Langstroth style hive

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Bush Bees – Colorado
I live in the Denver, CO area and I have a bush in my front yard that has hundreds of bees hovering around it constantly. Is this because the bush and it’s small flowers are particularly appealing to bees ? Or … is there possibly a ground hive of some sort underneath the bush ? I have looked inside the bush and there is no above ground hive that I can see. I have 2 small children which play in the yard frequently. While I know bees aren’t aggressive there’s a good chance they’ll get stung accidentally because of the sheer quantity. How can I locate the burrow (if there is one) and how would I get them to leave without carnage ? Granite over the burrow as with a previous post? Thank you for your help

These are Honey Bees, most likely domestic bees from a nearby apiarist’s hives. Honey Bees will travel great distances to a likely food source, and that is probably the case here. Honey Bees do not nest underground, and wild hives are generally found in hollow trees and in little used areas of buildings, like crawl spaces. While we understand your fear of your young children being stung, you would be far better served to properly educate them that the Honey Bees are not aggressive, and they will not sting unless provoked. Here at What’s That Bug? we do not really feel qualified to give parenting advice, but we believe if you teach your children not to touch the Honey Bees or bother them, it will better protect your children in the future and they can avoid being stung when not under your immediate watchful eye.

What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination