A bee? No it’s a fly.
Mistaking a fly for a bee is a classic entomologist pet peeve. But, honestly, it’s an easy mistake for untrained eyes. Hover flies are bee mimics, and they hang out in flowers just like bees. In fact, this is such a common mistake that a book about bees, The World of Bees, ended up with a hover fly on the cover!
There are some easy ways to tell the two apart, however. First of all flies have only 2 wings while bees have 4. This is very clear when you have them under a microscope but maybe not so easy to see in the field. The hover flies also have different eyes. Well, mainly, their eyes are huge! And their antennae are much smaller than bees. Plus, the hover flies don’t carry pollen and do not have hairs on their bodies as bees do. So look carefully at the pictures below and try it out next time you are outside near flowers. Find a bee, then find a syrphid!
The technical name for hover flies is syrphid. And, besides looking like bees, they are very interesting little insects. As larvae, the are voracious predators of soft bodied insects, like aphids. Adults females lay single eggs near potential food sources.
Out of these eggs, little hunters hatch. Because the don’t have legs, these guys look a little funny moving around, as you can see in this video I made last week.
While the lack of legs doesn’t hinder their appetite, it does prevent them from moving long distances. This is why the adult females try to lay their eggs near potential food sources. If the females gets in wrong, the newly hatched larvae will most likely die. But if the female gets it right, the larvae will chew their way through a ton of aphids and become lovely bee mimics!
Having syrphids in your garden is a great way to help provide natural control for aphids. A good way to encourage them is to have flowers in the daisy family. I’ve had particularly success with Shasta daisies. You can often see them perched on leaves, like the adult syrphid below.