‘Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me’…

This hover fly is the common ‘drone fly' (Eristalis tenax) spotted on a thistle flower. Its appearance is mimicking a honeybee drone and like the hive drones it has no sting. It does however benefit from appearing like a stinging bee and thereby fools predators into leaving it alone.

Drone fly feeding on thistle.

The honey bee drones are the male bees in the hive and, unlike this worker bee, do not visit flowers, collect nectar or contribute to the upkeep of the hive. Their sole purpose in life is to mate with the queen on her nuptial flight. They have no father only a mother, although they will themselves father many thousands of worker bees. The mating flight results in the untimely and gruesome death of these drones as the queen pulls away. She will mate with a number of drones, none of which will make it back to the hive. On returning to the hive she has secured enough sperm to lay many many thousands of fertilised eggs and keep the colony going for a number of years.


Honeybee worker foraging on white clover

Come the autumn those drones that didn’t get the once in a lifetime chance to mate with the virgin queen are unceremoniously pushed out of the hive by the worker bees. Content to tolerate them whilst they provide a ‘service’ in fertilising the new queens the workers are not willing to share their honey stores through the long winter. A strategy which benefits the many rather than the few. In the early spring the queen will lay a small number of unfertilised eggs and thereby produce another generation of drones for the new season.


The drone fly larva has a less glamorous life cycle alone, spending its development in stagnant dung enriched pools and ditches as a ‘rat-tailed maggot’. As an adult it has been shown not only to mimic the honeybee in appearance, but replicates its flight pattern to fool predators, despite only having one pair of wings to the honeybees two. It also plays an important role alongside its colonial neighbour as a welcome pollinator of flowers.

© 2019 by HED Ltd.