There are plenty of good hoverfly photos on NatureSpot but the Ball & Morris book in the ‘Wild Guide’ series is the one you need to ID them – there are over 280 species to separate! Nature spot explains that hoverflies belong to the family Syrphidae, a family within the order Diptera (true flies). As they are often brightly coloured and very common in gardens many people will be familiar with them but because many have black and yellow markings they are often confused with bees and wasps. However hoverflies are totally harmless and are definitely a gardener’s friend, as the larvae of several common species have a voracious appetite for aphids! Very few hoverflies have common names and those that do exist are not always widely known but some are quite cheerful, starting with the Footballer Fly.
Helophilus pendulus. Its scientific name means “dangling marsh-lover” but this was on some Anagalis in the garden in early June, not too far from the pond. Its also called The Sunfly due to its preference for bright sunny days or the Footballer Fly because of its smart stripes.
ID- Loop in the vein, black antennae, and (Ball & Morris p 199, 214) only 1/3 hind tibia black, looks to have a m genital capsule.
Episyrphus balteatus. Probably the commonest UK hoverfly. The fact that it can be seen in most months of the year is no doubt in part due to it hibernating through the winter but emerging on warmer days and numbers are also boosted by migrants – though Brexit will soon put paid to the latter no doubt. According to Ball & Morris, the more orange they are, the hotter the weather when the larvae were developing. Cold climate larvae give rise to blacker adults.
ID- Unmistakable. The two ‘moustache’ black bands on its abdomen are unique.
Washing Line Fly
Meliscaeva auricollis maybe? Sorry, no common name that I can find if it is. Hoverflies with eyes close together are almost always male I believe, whereas female eyes are separated. I’d guess we have a male.
The fly in the second two photos was on the washing line so I couldn’t see the markings from above. I remember it as very black and white. Maybe the same, but can’t be sure.
ID – These are not great photos and this ID is less certain. Initial thought was Platycheirus genus – maybe the White-footed Hoverfly Platycheirus albimanus – but the scutellum is pale rather than black and the jutting ‘jaw’ isn’t present. The triangular black marking (or oblique hind margins to the pale spots if you prefer) suggest Meliscaeva auricollis instead? It’s supposed to be very variable but NatureSpot pictures certainly look similar and the face matches Ball & Morris p137.
Syritta pipiens. It’s known as the Thick-Legged Hoverfly for obvious reasons. It breeds in compost, manure and other rotting organic matter so maybe our compost heap is where it makes its home. Homes are hard to find in Bristol so I like to think we’re helping someone out.
The males are very territorial and will face up to each other. They also have cunning stalking strategies to get close to the females. I read the following here.
When males chase females they approach the female at a certain close distance but don’t get so close that the females take evasive action. As the female leads the chasing male, the male always stays at exactly the same distance. Insect nervous systems react mostly to changes in size and movement, not to something that appears to be an unmoving spot, which is how the male looks to the female. The male’s strategy employs a kind of “motion camouflage.” Moreover, if the female changes direction, the male flies sideways without changing his heading, which denies the female a chance to see the male with a different profile, from the side. No matter how the female flies, the male remains a same-size, same-shape speck behind her, and her eyes and brain just can’t make anything of that. When finally the female lands, the male already is close enough to pounce.
ID- Unmistakable. Grey dusted thorax and enlarged hind femura with a red spot. See Ball & Morris p266.
Melanostoma scalare. A common hoverfly from the arctic to Zimbabwe but I can’t find much about it. Scalare means ‘of a ladder’ in latin, presumably its a reference to its markings, but this little creature’s common name is the Chequered hoverfly. The intro to the species Flikr gallery here says this.
It can be encountered in a wide variety of habitats, though is more strongly associated with woodland, shrubs and lush tall herb such as nettles than M. mellinum. The life cycle is poorly understood but larvae may be generalised predators of other small invertebrates in leaf litter and grass tussocks. It apparently flies April to November peaking at the end of May and in August.
ID- Normal legs separates from Platycheirus, head dusting (see Ball & Morris p77) separates from M. mellenium. yellow antennae are another good sign. Melanostoma scalare is more common in lowland areas and mellinum more abundant in uplands and moors. Abdomen shape and eye gap suggests female.
Eupeodes corollae, Scaeva pyrastri ? Too tricky for me. A female though I imagine.
- Eupeodes corollae is also known as the Migrant Hoverfly. It is common in patches of flowers in fields, road verges, gardens and alongside hedgerows.
- NatureSpot says few Scaeva pyrastri can survive the winter so its another migrant. It is known as the Pied Hoverfly and found in gardens, wasteland and meadows.
ID- Not sure at all of this one.
- Eupeodes corollae is very variable and some photos look exactly like our visitor, with pale spots rather than yellow. An indicator for this one is that the pale lunate spots reach the pale margin. Ball & Morris p 127. The face looks right.
- On the other hand, the creamy-white comma-shaped bars and habitat are also strong indicators of Scaeva pyrastri, as would a swollen forehead be but I just can’t tell. Dasysyrphus venustus also looks similar to my eyes but has a dark centre to its face whereas the Ball & Morris key doesn’t (p123).
Deaths Head Fly
Myathropa florea. iSpotNature says its known as the Dead Head Fly, or Death’s Head Fly, from the marking on its thorax which can resemble a human face or death mask. Myathropa florea feeds on pollen and nectar and appears on various plants including Hogweed and Cow Parsely between May and October.
ID- I’m fairly confident. It looks a bit like an Eristalis but the pattern is crisper and despite the poor photo I think I can make out the the pattern of grey spots and bars on the thorax and the yellow body hairs which NatureSpot says help to identify the species.
NO IDEA YET!
Syrphus or Epistrophe Maybe?
Nothing definite here yet but is this a Syrphus or an Epistrophe? A much better phot would be needed.
ID- The three common Syrphus are impossible to separate without high quality photos or a specimen and a lens. Ball & Morris’ key (p151) shows S. torvus distinguished by eye hairs and S. vitripennis / ribesii distinguished by leg hair colour. I need to hold the camera steadier next time!