Hoverflies: Gardener’s Friends

I have been trying to learn more about pollination and have been asking myself and others the question “If bees are the No 1 insect pollinators who or what are No2 ?”

The broad answer seems to be “flies” and amongst that massive and sometimes unappealing group of insects, hoverflies are possibly number one on the pollinator list. A couple of weeks ago I knew nothing much about hoverflies, except that since looking for bees I had begun to “see” them more, to notice quite a few different kinds, appreciate their delicate beauty and admire their sometimes expert mimicry of bees and wasps.

Now, after attending one day of the Hoverfly ID course at the Natural History Museum I understand just a little more about them and know that, with over 250 UK species, they are a huge and complex group of insects.

A hoverfly from a walk here in Grafham in July last year. I think I can now confidently say it is Episyrphus balteatus or the “marmalade hoverfly”.

It is very common in the UK and not only a good pollinator but its larvae eat aphids, lots of aphids. According to the Natural History Museum  “Each larva consumes more than 200 aphids during its development”, so definitely the gardener’s friend.

The course was led by Roger Morris author of “Hoverflies of Surrey”, who jointly runs the national Hoverfly Recording Scheme with Dr Stuart Ball.If you are interested in getting to know more about hoverflies go to their website where you will find more info and also details of courses and events coming up. http://www.hoverfly.org.uk.

Roger gave us a brief outline of the different species and then it was on to identification of specimens, using “keys” and microscopes. It was my first time for both. It is not easy! The adult hoverflies are fascinating, beautiful and ancient creatures. It is such a shame that some people think they are wasps and kill them when really they could not be more harmless.

I hope to include a couple of paintings of them in this years exhibitions to try to encourage  people to appreciate them more. But it’s not quite so easy to do PR for hoverflies as it is for bees.
An insect called a “fly” of any kind has a bad start and it is best not to dwell on some of their questionable choices of accommodation or that that some of the larvae are referred to as “rat tailed maggots”. Not very cuddly, is it…but, of course, what we call them is not their fault.

As I am still laid up with a sprained shoulder (not to be recommended) and unable to work, I looked through some old photos and found I had taken quite a few of hoverflies which I am attempting to identify.. with mixed success. I may or may not be right!
I think this below is the beautiful bee mimic hoverfly Volucella bombylans taken Heligan in June.

and this one from later in the year at Brampton Wood in October is, I think Helophilus pendulus on Devils Bit Scabious.


This one from Dads garden in September I think  Volucella pellucens


This one I think could be Eristalis tenax taken late in the year in November when all that was flowering by the lake was the Bristly Ox Tongue.


and another one with slightly different markings

Scaeva pyrastri  I think, from July.

and another which I can’t identify on the brambles


and as I am finishing this Sarah Raven is enthusing about hoverflies on the telly, see “Bees Butterflies and Blooms”.. BBC2.