Crazy-eyed Fly

“Is that a bee or a fly?” my friend asked, pointing to the small critter that had just landed on a flower beside me. Though primarily a birder, she knew enough about the bugs around us not to assume everything that looks like a bee is a bee. Indeed, mimicry within the animal kingdom is common, and thousands of other insect species mimic bees and wasps for protection.

I glanced down and, noting the short, stubby antennae present, said it was a fly. Although it was the right size for a honey bee, the antennae would have been long and thread-like had it been one. The shape was not quite like that of a honey bee either, but such distinctions are easily overlooked, even by folks like me who look at flies without cringing. At least, I usually don’t cringe.

Our fly had the general coloration and muted abdominal striping highly suggestive of a honey bee, just as do dozens of kinds of flower flies in the family Syrphidae. Wanting a better look, I pulled out my cell phone to get a close-up shot, which I managed just before it flew off. Then we looked at the photo. Here was one of the exceptions.

The photo was of a species, Eristalinus taeniops, I call the Crazy-eyed Fly. This creature has the sort of completely lunatic face you would never want to meet in human form. Fortunately, it is only about a centimeter long. Much bigger? No thanks!

Others call the species the Stripe-eyed Fly, which, though accurate enough, hardly does this animal justice. It is now rather common here, but is a recent arrival, with the first southern California records from about fifteen years ago. The fly may have been introduced from the Mediterranean, southern Africa or South America, all of which have thriving populations. The genus to which it belongs has several species with strange eye spotting and banding, but I like to think that our own Crazy-eyed Fly tops the charts when it comes to WEIRD.