The next time you spot what appears to be a bumblebee perched on a plant in your garden, take a close look at the insect, as it just may be accomplish insect predator known as the southern bee killer (Mallophora orcina).
The southern bee killer is one of the approximately 1,000 species of robber flies that inhabit North America. All of these amazing flies eat all sorts of insects; however, the southern bee killer prefers to eat paper wasps, carpenter bees, honeybees, and bumblebees.
The southern bee killer is commonly inhabits backyards throughout the entire state. In spite of this, unless you actually spot this predatory insect flying about with its prey, chances are you mistook it for a bumblebee. Bumblebees do not fly about clutching other insects. That is understandable as it is fuzzy like a bumblebee, and its body is marked with the yellow and black pattern we associate with bumblebees. In addition, if its legs seem to be exceptionally long and its eyes extremely large, you are probably looking at a bee killer.
The southern bee killer is a true mimic. It definitely looks like a bumblebee. Biologists are not certain how the bee killer’s similarity to a bumblebee benefits the insect. Some suggest it causes predators that do not like to be stung by bumblebees to shy away. Who knows?
At any rate, the southern bee killer is an ambush predator. It spends its day perched on a blade of grass, flower, twig, or other object and waits from a bee to fly by. Once it spots a potential prey, it immediately chases it down. If successful, it grabs the hapless bee in midair and impales it with its powerful, sharp mouthparts. It then immediately injects its prey with a combination of enzymes and nerve poisons. This deadly concoction disables the insect and dissolves its body tissues. The bee killer then drinks its liquefied meal.
Since bee killers routinely return to the same perch, if you happen to locate a perch, check out this location from time to time, you can watch the bee killer hunt time after time.
Although the southern bee killer is a deadly predator, I have never heard of an instance where one attacked a human. That being said, if for some reason you happen to touch one, it can inflict a painful bite.