The Often-Ignored Hoverfly

Dear Readers, when we think about pollinating insects we often fixate on bees and butterflies, without thinking about the many other pollinator groups, from beetles to wasps to flies in general. But one group that always fascinates me are the hoverflies, with their wide range of sizes and patterns. Some are wasp mimics, like this species (Syrphus sp. I think but happy to be corrected), and very convincing they can be too – this one even moves its abdomen in a particularly waspish way. I love watching the way that they clean themselves by rubbing their ‘feet’ together.

This individual is a female – you can tell because there is a broad band between the eyes, whereas in males the eyes are very close together. The larvae feed on aphids, and the adults can often be seen feeding on honeydew (as here) or on broad, open flowerheads (my hemp agrimony is a great favourite with many species of hoverflies).

In some Syrphus species, the males have hairy eyeballs, which is quite something, though you’d have to get up close and personal to spot them. I have absolutely no idea why.

Now, this particular genus of hoverflies is obviously mimicking a wasp, and doing it with a fair degree of accuracy. I wonder if anyone else has noticed real wasps chasing other insects this year? I watched one wasp harassing a gatekeeper butterfly for over five minutes this morning, following it from flower to flower with definite predatory intent. Many wasps’ nests will be at their maximum size by now, with lots of mouths to feed, and so the workers will be keen to get their jaws around any protein that they can find. If there are not many caterpillars about they will certainly turn their attentions to other kinds of invertebrates, or even human food – I remember one returning again and again to the remains of a salmon sandwich, slicing off tiny slivers of fish and flying back and forth to the nest.

Soon, of course, the nests will break up and the wasps will only have to feed themselves – their preferred food at this stage is nectar, so you’ll often see them on windfall apples or ivy flowers in the autumn. It’s hard to begrudge them something sweet at the end of their lives. May we all be so lucky.

Wasp on ivy flower


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