Hoverflies

I am finding hoverflies increasingly fascinating, many species are attractive to look at, occur in different shapes and sizes and often having striking colours and patterns. They are particularly associated with flowers, from which they take nectar and pollen, which means I can combine my love of wildflowers with spotting the different species of hoverfly that feed on them.

There are 300 or so species of hoverfly occurring throughout Britain, and although we appear to be well-blessed in this corner of North Wales with a diverse array of species, I will probably only identify a fraction of that number and they’ll most likely be the biggest or showiest ones and the ones I see and photograph most often.( I haven’t even reached 20 species yet!). I am trying hard to identify those I photograph and to generally learn more about them; some are relatively easy as they are sizeable and disctinctively coloured or  marked, but many others are tiny and a good number share similar colours and patterning, so it comes down to details such as colours of parts of legs patterns of veins on wings and even the minutiae of genitalia!

This is my personal collection illustrating some of  hoverflies I have photographed to date; more will be added once I believe I have identified them correctly. If a hoverfly is included in a blog post I will include a link that will bring you here for more details about a species if you’d like to know more.

It is not intended to be an authentic identification guide, I am too inexperienced for that and may well make mistakes! If you spot any, mistakes that is, please let me know, I am more than happy to be put right and will correct any errors.  All insects have been photographed locally in North Wales. Where possible I have used enlarged images, or more than one photograph to show as much detail on individual insects as possible.

My hoverfly identification bible is Britain’s Hoverflies by Stuart Ball & Roger Morris ISBN 978-0-691-16441-0 and much of the descriptive text of species is taken from there.  Photographs are all my own work though, so please ask if you’d like to use any of them; I’m unlikely to say no, but always appreciate the courtesy!

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SYRPHINI

A large tribe composed of 18 genera including nearly one third of our species and some of the most colourful and familiar of our hoverflies, most of which are moderate to large in size and have an abdominal pattern of black-and-yellow stripes or spots.

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Sphaerophoria

Small, elongate, black & yellow banded hoverflies with yellow faces, a yellow scutellum & prominent yellow markings on the side of the thorax. Males have a large genital capsule which forms a bulge under the abdomen and definite id is only possible in males based on genital characteristics. Females cannot be identified to species, but are often mistaken for other narrow-banded hoverflies such as smaller Parasyrphus.

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Sphaerophoria 

Wing length: 5-7mm

Long Hoverfly-Spaerophoria scripta

14/8/11-Long Hoverfly-Spaerophoria

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Episyrphus

1 British species

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Episyrphus balteatus-Marmalade Fly

Size: Small – Body length 10-12mm

Distribution: Throughout Europe

SYR-Episyrphus balteatus -Marmalade fly- Bryn Pydew-2012-9-1 (2)

1/9/12-Episyrphus balteatus -Marmalade fly- Bryn Pydew (most common colour form)

1/9/12 Marmalade fly-Episyrphus balteus-Bryn Pydew

1/9/12 Marmalade fly-Episyrphus balteus-Bryn Pydew

Britain’s  commonest and best-known of the hoverflies and commonly known as the Marmalade Fly. The adults are found almost anywhere there are flowers for nectar and are frequent visitors to parks and gardens as well as more natural habitats. They can occur in enormous numbers: adults are very mobile and migratory and can appear in vast swarms in some years.

Larvae are voracious aphid-feeders, feeding on a wide range of species.

* This is an extremely variable species, whose background colour is influenced by the temperature at which the larvae developed. Larvae in hot conditions produce adults with more orange markings (sometimes almost lacking any black markings), whilst those that develop in cooler conditions produce darker adults (sometimes completely black). Britain’s Hoverflies – as above.

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Syrphus

5 British species – (1 illustrated)

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Yellow and black banded hoverflies with a yellow face and the dusted thorax having a dull, bronzy-green appearance. There are three species (S.ribesii, S.torvus & S.vitripennis ) that are amongst the commonest yellow-and-black banded flower-visiting hoverflies, but they are hard to separate.

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Syrphus ribesii

When to see it: It can be found from March to November with peaks in late May/early June and again in July to September.

Distribution– Throughout Europe and common throughout Britain. Found in gardens, hedgerows, waste ground and many other habitats. Males often create a ‘hum’ by vibrating their wings when resting and this sound is often a familiar background noise in woodland during the summer. It is multiple brooded.

150712TG-Bryn Euryn -hvfly-Syrphidae-syrphus ribesii (2)

*This species is almost identical to Syrphus vitripennis (Lesser Banded Hoverfly) except the female’s hind femur (top part of leg) is yellow rather than black. The males also have a very hairy base to their wings – another identifying feature.

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CHEILOSINI

There are four genera within this tribe including our largest genus (Cheiliosia). The humeri are hairy and the head sufficiently separated from the thorax to make them visible in many cases. Most species are black, but a few more brightly coloured.

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Cheiliosia

38 British species

This genus has the largest number of species in Britain, all of which are basically black – although a few are furry.

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Cheiliosia caerulescens(A bee mimic)

Size:  Wing length: 8.5-10.25mm

Often described as a bee mimic, although as quoted from Stuart Ball & Roger Morris, “it is not a very good one!”

3/8/15-Cheilosia illustrata -Bryn Euryn woodland Trail

3/8/15-Cheilosia illustrata (female) -Bryn Euryn woodland Trail on Hogweed

150803-Bryn Euryn (15)-Hvfly-Cheilosia illustrta

When to see it: 

Description: An attractive furry bee-like hoverfly with a band of long white hair across the base of the abdomen and dark wing markings. The scutellum and face are black.

150803-Bryn Euryn Cheilosia illustrata

Dark wing cloud more visible in this image

Observation:  These hoverflies are strongly associated with Hogweed, where adults can be found feeding & their larvae mine the stems and roots of the plant. Adults will also visit other umbellifers, so may be encountered outside the flowering period of Hogweed.  Common & widespread in lowland localities such as woodland edges & road verges, but also in uplands wherever Hogweed occurs.

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Unidentified as yet

7/8/15 - A small black fly not yet identified

7/8/15 – A small black fly not yet identified

150807-Bryn Euryn 3-Small black hoverfly

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Ferdinandea

An easily-recognised genus in which the thorax has a pair of broad, grey, longitutinal stripes and the abdomen has a metallic sheen. There are strong black bristles on the sides of the thorax; an unusual feature amongst hoverflies.

2 British species- 1 photographed

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Ferdinandea cuprea

Wing length: 7.5 – 11.25mm

7/8/15-Ferdinandea cuprea-the shiny bronze abdomen caught my attention

7/8/15-Ferdinandea cuprea-basking on a leaf in the sun, the shiny bronze abdomen caught my attention

Description: A very attractive hoverfly with a metallic brassy bronze-gold abdomen. There are grey stripes running along the thorax, dark wing markings and the fly has yellow legs. The abdomen also has a border of strong bristles, which is an unusual feature in a hoverfly.

7/8/15-Ferdinandea cuprea on a nipplewort flower in shade

7/8/15-Ferdinandea cuprea on a nipplewort flower in shade

Observation: A woodland species which is often found basking on sunlit leaves, as the one in my first photograph, or on the trunks of trees, wooden posts and telegraph poles. They are less often seen visiting flowers, although the one I spotted spent some minutes visiting various flowers on a nipplewort plant. The species is widespread, especially in the south, but is rarely abundant.

Larvae live in sap runs.

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Rhingia

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Rhingia campestris

Wing length: 6-9.5mm

140804TGNW-Hoverfly-Rhingia campestris-Bryn Euryn

4/8/14-Rhingia campestris-on Knapweed-Bryn Euryn

CHEI-Rhingia campestris 1Description: An unmistakable species with an orange abdomen and an obvious long projection (rostrum) that encloses the proboscis and allows the fly to feed on nectar & pollen in deep flowers, which other hoverflies cannot reach.

A common and widespread species with two generations; the earlier one flying in May-June and the later one from mid-late summer.

It is most common in woodland and on field edges, but can be found in most habitats. It visits a large range of flowers, including those with deep tubes, such as Bluebell and Red Campion, which other hoverflies are unable to access.

140804TGNW-Hoverfly-Rhingia campestris & marmalade fly coming in-Bryn Euryn

Rhingia campestris feeding on knapweed- Marmalade fly coming in

The larvae of Rhingia campestris live in fresh cattle dung, but have also been found in other enriched wet media such as silage. It has been found to be abundant in other areas with few cattle too, such as East Anglia, so breeding habitats other than cow dung appear to be significant.

To date I have only had one sighting of this species, as dated in the photographs above. Cattle are not abundant in this part of North Wales.

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Eupeodes

9 British species  (1 illustrated)

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Eupeodes corollae – Migrant Hoverfly 

When to see it: March to November peaking in July and August

20/7/11-Penrhyn Bay-on mallow flowers at back of beach

This is an attractive species, though males and females have quite different yellow markings; the yellow ‘commas’ on the male often merge together.Found where there are patches of flowers, in fields, road verges, gardens and alongside hedgerows.

Other sightings:17/7/11-Bristol(garden)

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Scaeva pyrastri – Pied Hoverfly

When to see it: May to November, peaking in August.

12/7/15-Scaeva pyrastri

12/7/15-Scaeva pyrastri-Pied Hoverfly taking aphid honeydew from a houseplant leaf

22/8/11-Little Orme, N Wales

Description: A relatively large and conspicuous hoverfly with pairs of upward curving creamy-white bars on a black abdomen.

Similar Species: Dasysyrphus venustus

Habitat: May be found in gardens, wasteland and meadows.

150712-hvfly-Scaeva pyrastri (12)aLife History: It is thought that few can survive the British winter, so each year the breeding population depends on migration from mainland Europe.

UK Status: It is found across much of Britain though like many hoverflies it becomes rarer the further north you go.

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Eristalini

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Eristalis

10 British species (5 illustrated)

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Eristalis pertinax- Tapered Drone Fly

Wing length: 8.25-12.75mm

Tapered Drone fly - Eristalis pertinax

Eristalis pertinax-Tapered Dronefly (male) nectaring on Hogweed-Bryn Euryn

Eristalis pertinax face- narrw black shining stripe set in broad, dull darkened area

Eristalis pertinax female). Face- has a narrow black shining stripe set in broad, dull darkened area

Identification: Most distinctive features of this Eristalis are the yellow tarsi of the front and middle legs and the distinctly tapered-triangular shape of the abdomen, particularly in males.

The face has a narrow shiny black stripe down the centre that is set in a broad, dull darkened area.

7/8/15-Eristalis pertinax (male)- Bryn Euryn-on ragwort

7/8/15-Eristalis pertinax (male)- Bryn Euryn-on ragwort

Habitat: This species occurs almost everywhere, including upland moorland and may be seen throughout the warmer months of the year from March to October. It is one of the first species to emerge in the Spring when males are seen characteristically defending territory in woodland rides and around flowering bushes, although few females are seen at this time.

*Whilst similar to E. tenax (The Drone-fly), this species has a more tapering abdomen and it also has pale or orangey front legs. The pair of orange markings on tergite 2 of the abdomen are nearly always present, but tend to be brighter in summer specimens.

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Eristalis arbustorum

When to see it: Can be seen from April to November, with populations               peaking in July and August

8-1812TGNW-Little Orme -Eristalis arbustorum on ragwort

18/8/12 -Eristalis arbustorum- Little Orme, North Wales

Description: A smaller member of the drone-fly group, it still has the stocky shape, but is distinguished by a completely pale dusted face. It can have quite variable markings on its body and some can be almost totally black.

Habitat:  Widely found in gardens, on urban wasteland and in other open habitats.

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Eristalis nemorum

12/7/15-Eristalis nemorum

12/7/15-Eristalis nemorum

Identification: An aspect of behaviour of this species assists with its identification: the males will hover above a female as she feeds on a flower. I captured this fascinating behaviour in the photograph below, taken during a walk on Bryn Euryn. Both sexes are variable in both size and colouration. There is a wing stigma that is usually small and sharp-edged.

Eristalis nemorum-males hovering above a female

Eristalis nemorum-males hovering above a female-Bryn Euryn

Observation: A widespread species occurring in woodland rides, hedgerows and flowery meadows where adults visit a wide variety of flowers. It has a long flight period and can be abundant in mid-summer.

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Eristalis horticola

eristalis horticola has a distinctive dark mark across centre of wing

Eristalis horticola (m) – has a distinctive dark mark across centre of wing. On ragwort flower.

Description: Usually relatively large and more brightly marked than other Eristalis Wings have a prominent dark mark across the centre of each, (although this is variable in density & extent). Hind metatarsus is dark.

Habitat: Mainly a woodland and hedgerow species which is widespread but tends to be more abundant in the north of the country. It frequents hawthorn and bramble flowers. Males hover to defend a territory in a similar way to E.pertinax.

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Eristalis tenax

When to see it: Although it occurs in the Spring, Eristalis tenax is most abundant in late summer and often particularly numerous on ivy flowers. Females hibernate in sheltered cavities in caves and buildings.

5/8/14-Eritalis tenax-Bryn euryn on hemp agrimony

Identification: A honey-bee mimic. Three characteristics distinguish this large honey-bee mimic from other Eristalis :  the eyes have a vertical stripe of longer, dark hairs; the black facial stripe is very wide; and the hind tibia is distinctly enlarged and curved.

2012-9-1-TGNW-Eristalis sp hoverfly feeding on scabious

Eyes have a vertical stripe of longer, dark hairs; black facial stripe is wide; hind tibia is distinctly curved

Habitat: Larvae live in highly enriched aquatic environments including slurry tanks and silage clamps, where they can sometimes occur in vast numbers.

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Myathropa: Eristalini

A distinctive yellow-and-black species often described as a wasp mimic, but not very convincing.

1 British species – illustrated

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Myathropa florea

 

160703-Bryn Euryn (92a) HVFLY-Myathropa florea

3/7/16-Bryn Euryn-Myathropa florea (f)

160703-Bryn Euryn (3) HVFLY-Myathropa florea

3/7/16-Bryn Euryn-Myathropa florea (m)

When to see it: Widespread and abundant, adults occur from April to November and visit a wide range of flowers. They are also frequently seen basking on sunny leaves.

Description:  One of the genera with a loop in vein R4+5; veins R1 and R2+3 reach the wing margin separately. It has a distinctively patterned thorax, with the dark area towards the back resembling the ‘Batman’ symbol.

Similar species: Well-marked adults are unmistakable, but the markings are variable. Poorly-marked individuals can be difficult to recognise and may initially be confused with other Eristalines.

Habitat:  The rat-tailed maggot larvae live in wet hollows containing decaying leaves & twigs. Breeding sites are most often in woodland, but they are great opportunists and will breed in anything that holds water, such as a bucket or random plastic container.

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Helophilus

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Helophilus pendulus  – The Footballer or Sun Fly

When to see it : April to November, very common from June to August with a peak in July.

1/9/12 - The Footballer or Sun-fly - Bryn Pydew

1/9/12 – Heliophilus pendulus-The Footballer or Sun-fly (m) – Bryn Pydew

Description: This hoverfly is sometimes called ‘The Footballer’ due to its striped thorax and the other common name ‘The Sunfly’ denotes its preference for bright sunny days. Although apparently distinctive, there are in fact several species with similar stripes which are difficult to tell apart. Males are more easily identified as the yellow markings on the abdomen segments are separated by a black band. In this species the black on the hind tibia  is restricted to the distal third and the mid tibia is all yellow.

Habitat:  Visits a variety of habitats in most sunny situations, including gardens, along roadsides, field margins etc.

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Volucellini

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Volucella

5 British species- 2 illustrated

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Volucella  pellucens– Pellucid Fly

12/7/15-Volucella pellucens-Bryn Euryn

12/7/15-Volucella pellucens-Bryn Euryn-woodland trail

Volucella pellucens showing white band extends around abdomen

Volucella pellucens showing white band that extends around abdomen

Identification: The largest and one of the most distinctive British hoverflies, with large white markings around the abdomen that contrast with the otherwise black thorax and abdomen.

Observation: Widespread and abundant. Adults are generally to be found in sheltered situations such as woodland rides and tree-lined paths. Both sexes visit a wide range of flowers and are seen in gardens. Males may hover at around head-height and defend a beam 160623-Bryn Euryn 1339-55-Volucella pellucens– Pellucid Fly (3)of sunshine.

Larvae live in the nests of a range of social wasps where they scavenge amongst the debris in the bottom of the nest cavity.

 

 

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Volucella zonaria

10/7/15-volucella zonaria-Bryn Euryn-woodland trail

10/7/15-volucella zonaria-Bryn Euryn-woodland trail

150710tg-Bryn Euryn-hvfly-Volucella zonaria 3Identification: The largest British hoverfly and often described as a Hornet mimic, this attractive, large and colourful insect should be a relatively easy one to identify.

Observation: Widespread and increasingly abundant south of Cheshire and Humberside. Usually seen feeding on garden flowers such as Buddleiah.

Larvae live in the nests of social wasps that build in tree cavities, such as the Hornet where they scavenge amongst debris that falls to the bottom of the nest.

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6 thoughts on “Hoverflies”

  1. The name sun-fly reminds me that every hoverfly is a fun-fly (to look at and photograph).

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  2. Yes, they’re great insects and thank you for prompting me to update this page – I have a lot more photographs to add to the collection now.

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  3. Hi Theresa,
    Thanks so much for all the work you put into this – I know very little about hoverflies except that they breed in my garden pond. See my collection of photos from yesterday here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1026318380787999.1073741882.100002295396154&type=3

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  4. I’m still a relative newcomer to the world of hoverflies too. Putting my ‘collections’ together is my way of learning about what I photograph on my walks and for future reference in case I forget! What a colourful collection of photographs you took – did all of those little hoverflies originate in your pond? How lovely.

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  5. Hi Theresa – thanks for the photo reviews 🙂 Well I certainly don’t remember many hoverflies being around before I put the pond in – it is only about 7ft long and 2.5 ft deep; there is a septic tank/ farm drainage ditch about 50 years away, which runs half a mile, all the way to the Tweed, and is probably great habitat for them. I was very lucky with the light yesterday and with an ‘out of season’ dandelion, which attracted up to a dozen at a time. I am still puzzled about the Bee Mimic I photographed – the big hairy one. It seemed most similar to Erystalis Tenax on your list, but it had distinctly BLUE eyes. I have joined the UK Hoverflies group on Facebook and submitted it for ID. https://www.facebook.com/groups/609272232450940/
    I am a beekeeper so have mainly focused on honeybees, bumblebees and butterflies until now but this is definitely a hoverfly year where I live.

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  6. I’m glad UK Hoverflies confirmed your ID. Enjoy your new-found interest in hoverflies, but be warned-they can become addictive!

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