Bees, wasps, hornets, etc. Why black and yellow?

So I was looking at this page to identify my flying insect problem and a question came to mind.

Why are so many of these flying/stinging insects all black and yellow? Honey bees, bumble bees, carpenter bees, mining bees, yellow jackets, wasps, hornets, mud daubers.

Common ancestor? Did they develop it independently?

Note: I am sure there are some other kinds in other places that do not fit the yellow/black characteristic. I am talking about Eastern US insects.

It’s evolved mimicry - here’s a good explanation.

It is not unusual for a certain color to occur regularly through a family or genus. Among birds, for example, several genera of the Icterid family often exhibit yellow plumage, with the orioles being familiar examples, along with meadowlarks, bobolinks, oropendolas.

So, I guess one could say that bees and wasps are often black and yellow for the same reason that orioles are. Ancestral prototype.

The coloring is a warning (So much so, that we seem to have adopted it for street construction signs). There’s no point in being dangerous if you still get attacked by much animals who think you are lunch. Therefore, the black-and-yellow striping has become identified with dangerous stinging insects, probably because it was the pattern that one of the earlier stinging insects had and it’s distinctive enough to not confuse those that eat insects.

Not sure if bees and wasps are closely related, or if the pattern has evolved independently on several species.

Not mentioned - specifically black-and-yellow is one of the highest contrast combinations you can get.

But not all bees are black-and-yellow. Some are black-and-blue.

Here is the family tree. I’m on a phone, best I could do

That, or one genus of black-and-yellow insect used to be *really *effective in hurting insectivores (be it through stings, foul taste, deadly poison, whatever) which led those predators to instinctively try and avoid this one particular kind of bug, to the benefit of all the *other *local bugs that, for one reason or another or even random chance wound up with similar pigmentation.

IOW, it’s possible that at one time there were black-and-red bees, and blue-and-green bees, and purple-and-orange bees; but only the black-and-yellow ones lucked into an effective “you do NOT want to fuck with me, birdie” signal while the others became lunch. Same goes for the stripes.

Or black-and-white like Bald-Headed Hornets. Who I only mention because they do live in the eastern United States and are right bastards to be stung by.

Cinnabar moth caterpillarshave distinctive high contrast black and yellow stripes - and they have an unpleasant bitter taste (and are actually toxic as they store poisonous alkaloids from their food plant.

Birds apparently don’t instinctively know to avoid eating them - they learn it - which means the caterpillar species as a whole sacrifices a few of its number to win protection for the rest.

Birds of the Meropidae family live on a diet that is ideally almost entirely composed of preferential honey-bees, but will also eat any other kind of flying insect as well. Spectacularly beautiful and fairly common, their common name, aptly, is “bee-eater”. They obviously suffer no ille-effects from eating bees and wasps, and presumably, many other birds can also do so with impunity.

But that works if the coloration is distinctive. If the bird learn that 9 out of 10 of these are tasty buggers, lesson not learned. I wonder what is the process that prevents harmless insects from getting too carried away with imitating the dangerous ones? I can’t see the dilution effect being too effective at preventing fake bees from evolving?

If there are too many mimics then there is evolutionary pressure for the dangerous ones to change away from the mimics. There will be some equilibrium point.

The problem is that yellow and black crosses family lines. Bees and wasps are somewhat related, but you’ll also see fliesthat mimic the same colors and body shape. Unless we’re going to expand “ancestral prototype” to cover virtually every insect, mimcry is a better explanation for the convergence of these colors and patterns.

Correct. The bees, wasps, and hornets with warning coloration of black and yellow are not necessarily closely related and in most cases didn’t derive it from an ancestor that was similarly colored.

This common black and yellow pattern among stinging insects is known as Mullerian mimicry.It’s advantageous for dangerous animals to have a warning pattern so predators won’t mess with them. It’s also advantageous for unrelated dangerous animals to share the same warning coloration, since it minimizes the number of individuals of each species a predator will kill before learning to avoid the pattern. If each species had a different pattern, then the predator would have to kill several individuals of each species before it learned that species unique pattern.

Black together with yellow, orange, or red is one of the most common aposematic (warning) patterns (sometimes black and white for species which are active at night, or whose most common predators are color blind). Such patterns are found not only among stinging insects, but also among distasteful butterflies, venomous snakes, and poisonous frogs, and many others.

The flies that share the same color pattern are an example of Batesian mimicry,in which a harmless species gains protection by sharing a color pattern with a dangerous or distasteful one. Batesian mimics are usually less common than their models so that predators have a greater chance of learning that the pattern is dangerous. A common example of a Batesian mimic is the harmless Viceroy butterfly, which mimics the distasteful Monarch (shown in the article).