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Hoverflies – Ten Facts About These Misunderstood Insects

Hoverflies are part of the Diptera (meaning two wings) order of the Syrthidae family of insects. They can be brightly coloured, can have spots, bands or stripes, whilst others have dense hair covering their body. They are known as Hoverflies due to their hovering ability. They look like bees or wasps, but are in fact flies and they do not sting.

They are avoided by predators because they resemble wasps and bees; an excellent example of mimicry. Hoverflies also taste nasty, another reason why other predators leave them alone. There are about 250 species of hoverfly in the United Kingdom, whilst there are at least 6,000 species worldwide. They are found on most continents – except Antarctica. Due to the differences in their appearance, they can be difficult to identify.

  1. The Marmalade Hoverfly is one of the most common species to be seen in the United Kingdom. It can be identified by the double stripes on its abdomen.
  2. Hoverflies only have one set of functional wings; the hind wings are only there to help with balance. Wasps and bees have two pairs of wings.
  3. All species of hoverfly larvae have different feeding habits – some are saprothophs, meaning they eat decaying plants and animals, whilst others are insectivores, meaning they devour insects such as aphids and such.
  4. Hoverfly larvae can look like little slugs and can be usually found near stagnant water.
  5. Adult species of hoverfly eat pollen, nectar and honeydew – a sugar rich substance that is secreted by aphids and other sap feeding insects.
  6. Hoverflies can be seen in your garden from March until September, although this does depend on the species. The male hoverfly will emerge earlier in the season to mature first, to ensure successful reproduction.
  7. A Hoverfly can be identified by its controlled hovering, along with its rapid stop-start darting around. It also has a ‘floating’ vein that runs straight through its wing, but ends before it reaches the edge of the wing.
  8. The main difference between the male and female hoverfly is their eyes. The female has smaller eyes, whereas the male’s eyes are larger, closer together and almost meet in the middle.
  9. The hoverfly species that eat aphids and other insects, are often used a natural pest control method for this very reason.
  10. Gardeners can plant certain plants, known to attract hoverflies, to ensure that they are attracted to their garden. These plants include Alyssum, Parsley and Chamomile.