A Look at Insect Traits as Bee Fly Is Named for “Game of Thrones” Villain

newly discovered bee fly named "night king" for appearance and behaviors

By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer

A new species of bee fly has been named after the Night King on Game of Thrones, BBC News reported. It gets its name from its peculiar appearance and behaviors, reminding us of unique insect characteristics.

Newly discovered bee fly, Paramonovius nightking
Paramonovius nightking is a species of bee fly, which is a fly with the appearance of a bee, that has unique behaviors. Photo by Jean and Fred / Flickr (CC by 2.0)

According to the BBC, the Paramonovius nightking earned its name for sharing three bizarre traits with the villain on the popular HBO drama series Game of Thrones. First, it’s found only in winter. Second, it features a crown of “thorn-like spines” on its head. Third, researchers claim that females of the species turn other insects into “zombies” through a parasitic infestation. These odd behaviors suggest a look back at some of the peculiar traits found in other species.

Defensive Camouflage

Paramonovius nightking is a species of bee fly, which is exactly what it sounds like—a harmless fly with the appearance of a bee. It’s believed that bee flies developed this trait over time in order to cause their predators to believe that they’re bees. The bee flies’ predators know that bees sting and cause serious pain and will, therefore, be more reluctant to eat them. Many species of moth have similar defense mechanisms.

“Many night-flying moths are dark and have camouflage patterns, so they are more difficult for predators to find at all times,” Dr. Donald E. Moore, III, director of the Oregon Zoo, said. “Some moths, like Promethea moths, have large ‘eyes’ on their hind wings to scare predators.”

Dr. Moore said that moths aren’t the only insect group to do this. Butterflies, the moths’ less dusty cousins, get their colorful appearances from thousands of brightly colored, minuscule scales on their backs. “Some butterflies have very few scales on their wings, so they are clear and are very difficult for predators and humans to see,” he said. “Butterflies, moths, and their caterpillars spend so much time hiding from enemies that, among the thousands of species, we can find ones shapes like leaves, sticks, bird scat, bees, snakes, or dead leaves.”

Egg-Laying in Bees and Bee Flies

The BBC story said that Paramonovius nightking turns other insects into “zombies,” but the way it does so comes from its egg-laying habit. Apparently, females lay eggs in other insects; when they hatch, the bee flies eat their unlucky hosts from the inside out. Very few species of life on Earth share a child-birthing habit remotely similar to this; although, the honeybee’s egg-laying story is altogether different, it’s nonetheless fascinating.

“Sexual reproduction is the norm for insects, and honeybees—the best-known bee pollinators—are no different,” Dr. Moore said. “During the mating flight, the virgin queen bee may mate with many males. The male inserts his endophallus into the queen during her one-and-only mating flight, discharges his sperm, and leaves his endophallus behind, in her, as he withdraws.”

Dr. Moore explained that this process rips the male’s abdomen open and males die after mating. How much does this happen in one-mating flight? “Once a queen has mated, she stores over five million sperm and may lay more than one million eggs in her lifetime,” he said.

Getting back to the laying of eggs, Dr. Moore explained that the queen starts a brand-new colony by laying an egg in each individual cell of the honeycomb structure, which is made of beeswax. Even more fascinating, she chooses the sex of each egg. “The queen can choose to fertilize or not fertilize an egg as it moves through her oviduct,” he said. “Fertilized eggs all become female worker bees, while unfertilized eggs become drones or male bees. The worker bees can also lay eggs, but they are unfertilized, so the insect that emerges is a drone.” According to Dr. Moore, the queen can lay 2,000 eggs in a day, each of which is just half the size of a grain of rice.

The insect world is as spellbinding as it is diverse, from natural defensive camouflage to its egg-laying habits. The new “Night King” bee fly exhibits such unique traits as to earn its name from the undead ice king on Game of Thrones; so for now, we’ll have to hope we don’t discover any fire-breathing insects—since “dragonfly” is already taken.

Dr. Donald E. Moore, III, Ph.D.

Dr. Donald E. Moore, III contributed to this article. Dr. Moore is the director of the Oregon Zoo and senior science advisor at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Management and Zoology and a doctoral degree in Conservation Biology from the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.