A Moment of Science

Beetles that Collectively Seduce Male Bees

You’re a male bee. There aren’t too many occupations you’re interested in. Your life pretty much amounts to eating and having sex. What else is there?

So you’re flying around the countryside when you see below you what looks and possibly smells like a female bee. You swoop down to check it out. If this figure below you looked like food you would already have your tongue stuck out, eager to gobble it up. But you aren’t sticking your tongue out now. This lovely lady has distracted you from your mission to find food.

As you land on top of her you realize too late the mistake you have made. You do whatever it is that bees do when they are terrified. This is no female bee, no possible mate. This is a pile of young beetle larvae. To be exact, they are of the species Meloe franciscanus. They have clumped themselves together in the shape of a female bee in order to trick you. And now you have gotten too close.

Some of the beetle larvae have clung themselves to you. And later when you really do mate with a female bee they will transfer themselves onto her. And when she makes her nursery of eggs and food for the eggs to feed on, the beetle larvae will sneak into the nursery and eat that food until they pupate into adult beetles.

There are a host of insects out there that practice mimicry in order to trick other insects. These beetle larvae, however, are the first recorded case of parasitic insects working collectively to mimic their target.

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