Fly looks like bee

Bee mimics – insects that look like bees but are not

There are insects trying to pass off as bees and make you look like a fool in front of your friends – or worse, your kids.

Fear not, our guide to bee lookalikes – aka bee mimics – will separate the wannabes from the real bees.

Is it a bee, or a big black flying bug that looks like a bee?

Identifying bee mimics

Some harmless insects mimic bees to trick predators into thinking they’re armed with a sting. Others are relatives that have a pretty convincing family resemblance.

How many of these top tips for helping bees do you know?

Hoverflies (Syrphidae)

Drone fly on yellow flower Credit: Donald Windley (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Most bee-lookalikes are hoverflies. These harmless flies cannot sting. Some hoverflies resemble solitary bees or honeybees such as Drone flies. But watch out, there are also hairy species that mimic bumblebees. Check out the costume on this Bumblebee hoverfly.

Female Bumblebee hoverfly Credit: Sharp Photography (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Convincing, yes. Impossible to identify? No. hoverflies generally have small, short antennae, whereas bees have long and more obvious ones. They’re wannabes in disguise. But go easy on them, because like bees they’re expert pollinators that will make your garden bloom.

Differences between hoverflies and bees

Hoverfly characteristics:

  • 1 pair of wings (Bees have 2 – difficult to spot when folded)
  • No narrow waist
  • Short antennae
  • Eyes that cover most of their head (sometimes meeting in the middle)
  • No biting mouthparts (mandibles)
  • Often hover in mid-air

Bee-flies (Bombylius)

Another fly in bee’s clothing. These brown hairy flies look rather like Brown carder bumblebees and male Hairy-footed flower bees. Masters of disguise, they also feed from the same flowers with a jerky, hovering flight.

Bee fly on white flower Credit: PxHere

You absolutely can’t miss their long proboscis or ‘tongue’. It’s permanently stretched out which is a massive give away – bees tuck theirs in when not feeding.

Bee-flies fling their eggs into holes dug by Mining bees. Then their young, or “larvae”, feast on the bees’ pollen stores.

Spotting these insects won’t win you any points during the Great British Bee Count. But you can submit your sightings to Bee-fly Watch.

Differences between bee-flies and bees

Bee-fly characteristics:

  • Long tongue always outstretched
  • Single pair of wings – never folded
  • Short antennae
  • No narrow waist
  • Very long, thin legs
  • No biting mouthparts (mandibles)
  • Eyes that cover most of their head (sometimes meeting in the middle)
  • Often hover in mid-air

How many of these top tips for helping bees do you know?

Parasitic flies (Tachinidae)

You’d be forgiven for mistaking these big, bristly things for bees. Tachina grossa, one of Britain’s largest flies, could definitely sneak into a party for Black bumblebees. The yellow-sided Tachina fera are easily confused with Wool carder bees.

Parasitic fly (Tachina fera) Credit: Jean gadeyne (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Like bees and hoverflies the adults are pollinators. But they’re not called parasitic for nothing. They lay their eggs on other insects, such as caterpillars which the resulting larvae then feed on.

Differences between parasitic flies and bees

Parasitic fly characteristics:

  • Most are bristly rather than hairy
  • Single pair of wings- never folded
  • Short antennae
  • No narrow waist
  • Bulbous head
  • Eyes cover most of head
  • No biting mouthparts (mandibles)

Wasps (Aculeata)

Wasps are bee’s closest relatives. Actually, this might shock you, but bees are really a group of wasps. Say what? There are 9 species of social wasps in the UK – they’re the ones you normally see buzzing around your beer or ice cream, and generally reducing grown adults into screaming messes.


In addition there around 270 species of non-aggressive solitary wasps. These nest in holes in the ground, in deadwood and in bee hotels.

Wasps are generally balder and more brightly-coloured – but telling them apart from bees simply by appearance isn’t easy. Some bees, like Nomad bees, have even evolved to mimic wasps.

Behaviour can be a clue. Wasps gather animal matter to feed their larvae, such as insects, spiders and meat. None of our bees eat these things. Social wasps will also scrape wood and dead stems for nest material.

Contrary to popular belief, wasps are useful to have around. Not only do they pollinate, they also hunt pests like caterpillars, aphids and planthoppers. Read more about wasps.

Differences between wasps and bees

Wasp characteristics:

  • Bald or sparsely-haired
  • Bright yellow markings
  • Narrow feet
  • Social wasps and potter wasps can roll their wings at rest.

Bee beetle (Trichius fasciatus)

Bee beetle (Trichius fasciatus) Credit: gailhampshire (CC BY 2.0)

Even this species of scarab beetle is at it. Though I’m less convinced about its disguise, which is more beetle-in-a-bee-suit than long-lost-brother.

Bee beetles are scarce in Britain – turning up occasionally in the south and east of the country.

How many of these top tips for helping bees do you know?

How well do you know your wildlife?

Test your knowledge of British nature with our fun quiz – and see if you can sort the wildlife facts from the myths.

What is (and isn’t) a bee?

Take a look at the three pictures below, and try to identify which are bumble bees and which are honey bees:

If you didn’t pick any of them – good job! None of the insects pictured above are bees, but actually flies that are mimicking bees (or, in the case of the first picture, mimicking a wasp).
Thanks to cartoons and advertisements (not to mention the pain of an unexpected sting), bees are well-known insects in the public mind. And as a result, when most people think of a bumble bee or a honey bee, they’re not too far off-target. These bees are flying insects, often hairy, and can have black and yellow stripes. They live in colonies, defend themselves with a stinger, and harvest pollen from flowers.

However, bumble bees and honey bees represent only a handful of the bee species in the world, or even Illinois. With all this diversity, it becomes easy to confuse bumble or honey bees with many other kinds of bees, or their close relatives, the wasps. To make things even more difficult, many insects like the ones pictured above will try very hard to imitate bees (we call them bee mimics), and they do a surprisingly good job of it! To differentiate between bees and their many mimics, it becomes necessary to know a little more about these insects than just their colors and general shape.

Identifying Bumble Bees and Honey Bees

Honey bees and bumble bees share many features, but it’s not too hard to tell them apart. For a detailed description of these two insects, check out our Bee Biographies. If you don’t want to get too technical, just keep a few things in mind:

  • Honey bees have black and orange-yellow stripes, while bumble bees have black and vivid yellow stripes.
  • Bumble bees can appear a little furrier than honey bees.
  • Bumble bees are generally larger and have heavier bodies.

Bear in mind that these are generalizations. Some bumble bees are very small, and older bumble bees may have patchier hair or dimmer colors.

Below are some detailed pictures. The following images show a honey bee (left) and a bumble bee (right).

(Above images courtesy of Aaron McKusick and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension)

These images probably look familiar, but they also illustrate many specific features of bees that you may not be familiar with. The sections below will touch on these features, and what about them is unique to bumble bees and honey bees, or bees in general. Learning them will enable you to differentiate between these two bees and the many other similar insects.

The Parts of a Bee

The Antennae

Antennae in insects come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Bumble bees and honey bees have what are called elbowed antennae, which bend at a joint in the middle, as would a human arm.

The Wings

Most insects have two pairs of wings, and this includes all bees. This is an important feature to recognize; many flies are disguised as bees, but flies only have one pair of wings.

The Body

The body of a bumble bee or honey bee is covered in thick hair, making them appear quite fuzzy. This can be a useful way to tell between bees and wasps.

The Mouthparts

Bees have a unique type of mouth that has the usual insect mandibles (jaws), but also a long tongue. These mouthparts can be difficult to see unless the bee is stationary and feeding, but it is an important difference between bees and all other insects.

The Legs

The hind legs of the honey bee and bumble bee hold the most important difference between these and all other kinds of Illinois bees. Look to the images in this section, and at the enlarged section indicated by the arrows. This is the pollen basket, a hairy, concave (spoonlike) section of the leg where the bees pack pollen they collect from flowers. A few other tropical bees have this leg, but in Illinois, you will only see it on bumble bees and honey bees. Keep in mind that the other enlarged section, below the pollen basket, may be present on other bees. Additionally, male bees do not have pollen baskets, so you must use other features to identify them.

Identifying Bumble Bee and Honey Bee Lookalikes

Now that you’re familiar with bumble bees and honey bees, we’ll list the other insects that can resemble them. To help summarize the differences, every group of similar insects will have a chart like the one to the right, with icons of the antennae, wings, mouthparts, body, and legs. The icons in the green column are shared between honey bees, bumble bees, and the current insect. The red column shows where to look for the difference.

Other Bees

Bumble bees and honey bees are not the only two bees in Illinois. Leaf-cutting bees, sweat bees, carpenter bees, and many others are frequent visitors to flowers – see the section on solitary bees if you’re curious. The only surefire difference is the presence of the pollen basket.

SHARED Antennae
Hairy Body

Carpenter bees are commonly confused with bumble bees. One easy way to tell the difference is to look at the abdomen. If the abdomen is shiny and not hairy, you probably have a carpenter bee. Carpenter bees may also have much larger heads, proportionally. The pictures below compare a carpenter bee (on the left in each picture) to a bumble bee (right).


Many wasps have striking black and yellow colors and elbowed antennae. However, wasp species often lack the hairy thorax and abdomen. As always, when in doubt, check for the pollen basket.

SHARED Antennae

Yellow jackets are a species of wasp that you may find on your foods at picnics, or flying near trash cans. These can appear to be honey bees at first glance, but they are a much brighter yellow and lack visible hair on the body. The picture below compares a yellow jacket (left) to a honey bee (right).

Bee Mimics

Bee mimics are, simply put, other insects that resemble bees. This is called Batesian mimicry, which just means something harmless is imitating something dangerous.

The insects below may look like bees, but they cannot sting (though some may nip or bite!). Luckily for entomologists, no mimic is perfect. Below we’ll take a look at different insects in Illinois that pose as bees, and the ways in which their mimicry is incomplete.


Flies are one of the most common bee mimics in Illinois, and often very well disguised. Even so, there are two simple ways to tell a fly mimic from a bee. First, look at the wings: bees have four wings, but flies have two wings. Second, look at the antennae: bees have elbowed antennae, while many flies have short, stubby, or hair-thin antennae. If you can’t see the antennae, you’re probably looking at a fly.

SHARED Hairy Body

Drone flies, or hover flies, look and sound very similar to bees. When flying, their wings and antennae can be very difficult to observe – but their behavior will be very different from a bee. These flies hover and move erratically; bees generally move slowly from flower to flower, and do not hover in one place. The picture on the left shows the wings of a bee (right) compared to a fly (left). The other picture shows a very convincing bee mimic; however, notice the short, stubby antennae.


A few beetles in Illinois may look similar to bees. However, beetles can always be recognized by the presence of elytra, or hardened forewings. Think of a June beetle or Japanese beetle – the shell on their back is actually the first pair of wings. The second pair of wings are kept underneath the elytra, and only extended when the beetle flies. Bees, on the other hand, have four thin, translucent wings, all intended for flight.

SHARED Body Color Only!

Painted Locust Borers are beetles with black and yellow stripes that are very common on goldenrod in the late summer. While flying, these and other related beetles can appear to be bees or wasps. However, when placed side-by-side with bees, it is clear that they share little other than color.


Many day-flying moths also mimic bees for protection. These moths can share almost all of the superficial features of a bee: four wings, thickened antennae that can appear elbowed, and a furry, black-and-yellow coloration. The trick for seeing through these mimics is looking at the legs, and, if you can see it, the mouth. Moth legs are very slender, and clearly lack a pollen basket. The mouthparts of a moth consist of a long, slender tube (the proboscis), often equal to or greater than the length of the moth itself. This is held coiled under the head, but will elongate when the moth feeds.

SHARED Hairy Body

Clear-winged Sphinx Moths are bee mimics and day-flying visitors to many gardens. These moths move and hover over flowers like a hummingbird, rarely landing as they suck nectar. Bees, on the other hand, will always land on a flower to feed or gather pollen. In the pictures below, the arrows indicate the different mouthparts and lack of pollen basket.

Insects that look like bees

Editor’s note: This article was a joint collaboration between North Dakota State University and Michigan State University Extension.

Everyone knows bees love to visit flowers, but not everything you see visiting flowers or buzzing around the garden is a bee. In fact, many insects imitate bees in order to avoid unwanted attention. Whether you call them “bee-mimics,” “wanna-bees” or “yellow-stripey-things,” most are beneficial helpers in our yards and gardens. This brief guide will help you tell some of these insects apart.


Some flies, especially hover flies and bee flies, can be mistaken for bees because their body form, color and hair patterns, buzzing sounds and behaviors mimic bees. Flies have a set of front wings (forewings), but the hind wings are small, knob-like balancing organs called halteres, so flies appear to have only two wings (Figure 1). Bees have well developed forewings and hind wings.

Flies have large compound eyes that occupy most of the head, while bees have narrow compound eyes on the sides of the head. Most flies that resemble bees have short, three-segmented antennae, while bees have longer, cylindrical antennae of 12 (female) or 13 (male) segments.

Some flies, especially bee flies, can be hairy like honey bees (Figure 2), bumble bees and digger bees, and can hover and move quickly from flower to flower while foraging, just like bees. Flies do not sting people.

Figure 2. Hairy honey bee (Apis mellifera) on sedum. Photo by Veronica Calles-Torrez, NDSU.

Hover flies (Family: Syrphidae)

Several hover fly species (Figures 1 and 3) resemble bees in coloration, behavior and size. Most hover flies are 5 to 15 millimeters long and have large heads with reddish or marbled black eyes, two clear wings and black and yellow color patterns on the abdomen and sometimes on the thorax. Some hover flies are quite hairy while others are not.

Hover flies buzz and hover like bees around flowers. They feed on pollen and nectar, often using the same flowers that bees do. Some hover fly larvae are aphid predators and provide biological pest control.

Figure 3. Hover fly. Photo by Veronica Calles- Torrez, NDSU.

Bee flies (Family: Bombyliidae)

Bee flies (Figure 4) are about 7 to 15 millimeters long and have stout bodies covered with yellow, black or brown hairs. Different species can have transparent or patterned wings. Bee flies have a long proboscis (tongue) and feed on pollen and nectar.

Figure 4. Bee fly. Photo by David Cappaert,


Similar to bees, wasps have four developed wings, long segmented antennae and a distinctly visible narrow “waist” (Figure 5) due to a constriction between the thorax and abdomen. Bees also have a constricted waist, but it isn’t readily visible. Wasps are much less hairy than most bees (Figures 2 and 6). Wasps’ hairs are not branched, while bees’ are branched, but you will need a microscope to see this.

Figure 5. Paper wasp. Note the waist between the thorax and abdomen. Photo by Veronica Calles-Torrez, NDSU.

Most bees have special pollen-collecting hairs on their hind legs and collected pollen is easy to see (Figure 6). Leaf-cutting bees collect and carry pollen on hairs underneath their abdomens. Also, wasps have brighter colorations and patterns, and wider range of color and pattern variations than bees.

Figure 6. Honey bees, unlike wasps, carry pollen on their hind legs in a “pollen basket,” visible on the bee shown above. Photo by Veronica Calles-Torrez, NDSU.

Yellowjackets, hornets and paper wasps (Family: Vespidae)

These insects are strikingly patterned with black and yellow. They hold their wings folded lengthwise over their bodies like a jet. Yellowjackets (Figure 7) are approximately 12 to 25 millimeters long. Their face is mostly yellow, except for black eyes and black antennae. Yellowjackets have yellow and black bands on the abdomen and usually nest in the ground.

Figure 7. Eastern yellowjacket. Photo by Jon Yuschock,

Paper wasps (Figure 5) are approximately 25 millimeters long with black, yellow and sometimes orange markings. Nests are constructed of paper, often underneath house eaves.

Bald-faced hornets (Figure 8) are black with white markings and are about 15 to 25 millimeters long. The tip of the abdomen often has white markings. Nests are constructed in trees and sometimes roof peaks. Bald-faced hornets are usually aggressive and sting when their nests are disturbed.

Figure 8. Bald-faced hornet. Photo by Johnny N. Dell,

Cicada killers (Family: Crabronidae) (Figure 9) are large wasps 20 to 50 millimeters long. They have a yellow face brick-red eyes and a black abdomen with yellow bands. Wings are lightly infused with brown and the legs are red. As its name implies, Cicada killer wasps prey on cicadas. They do not have nest guarding instincts like wasps and honey bees. These impressive looking wasps are not aggressive, but females do have stingers and can sting when they feel threatened.

Figure 9. Cicada killer wasp. Photo by Johnny N. Dell,

This publication is supported in part by the Crop Protection and Pest Management Program 2017-70006-27175 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Download PDF version of this article: Smart Gardening: Know the insects that look like bees

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Sunday – March 02, 2008

From: Eaton, CO
Region: Rocky Mountain
Topic: Non-Natives, Pests
Title: Infestation of flies around euonymus in summer
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have 3 shrubs planted in my backyard. I think they are a type of euonymus (but I’m not sure). My question is why do they attract huge nasty flies. The first year we had them they didn’t. But the last few years in the summer they attract tons of really big flies. Is there anything I can do about this?


Okay, first, let’s make sure what plant we’re talking about, as you say you are not sure if you have an euonymus. This Clemson University Extension website has an excellent description of euonymus and recommendations for its care and control of pests. On this site, mention is made of one variety called Euonymus kiautschovicus, which apparently attracts bees and flies during its blooming season in late summer. Take a look at this page of Images of Euonymus kiautschovicus and see if you recognize it as your plant. That was the only mention we found anywhere of flies being attracted to any euonymus plant. According to the USDA Plant Profile for that plant, it is found only in about 5 states, all to the east of you.

Since all of the euonymus species are natives of the Far East, although distributed widely throughout Europe and North America, they are not in our range of expertise at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, which is focused on plants native to North America. However, we do try to help gardeners with plants having problems, even when they are not native. Have you also noticed more bees around your plant when it is blooming? Since the blooms are not particularly spectacular, and if you believe that is what is attracting the flies, you might try nipping the blooms in the bud, as it were. That would be a disappointment to the bees who are also coming to your bushes, but at least they wouldn’t be killed with an insecticide spray if you went that route. Pruning to eliminate the buds before they bloom would be the least expensive and least damaging to the environment, and is what we would recommend in this case. Try it for a summer, and see if it works.

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Garden centers with the healthy attitude that convent neatness and manicured shapes aren’t everything should carry them next spring; otherwise, ask to have them ordered.

Flies to Euonymus’s Flame

Q. I have a set of three Euonymus Manhattan shrubs, just like the ones I see in Central Park, and they have grown fairly tall, about five feet. They get a lot of sun and have a lot of flowers in late summer. For about three or four weeks, hundreds of flies swarm the shrubs, landing on the flowers. (There are also some bees, but mostly flies.) I would like to plant more euonymus, in shadier spots, and so would my neighbors. I have tried to research the shrub but found nothing about flies. I can’t believe this happens all over Central Park.

A. The flies are there at the request of the euonymus, which views them not as pests but as pollinators, and there isn’t much you can or should do about it. Many plants, including favorites like hollies, hawthorns and willows, attract flies rather than bees, moths or other insects. Most flowering plants have more than one pollinator, just in case. One type may get preferential treatment — bees, for example, may be lured with bright colors and sweet aromas — but being pollinated is more important to the plant than how it is done.

In general, and there are lots of exceptions to the rule, flies are major pollinators if the flowers are white, pale yellow or greenish; if they are more wide open than tubular; and if their aroma is more musky than sweet.

With everything else that happens in Central Park, who would notice a few extra flies?

Morning Glories’ Proclivities

Fruit trees and bushes are an eye-catching and delicious addition to any garden. The flies that they sometimes attract are a whole other story. They are the bane of gardeners all across the south, including Alabama. If you want to enjoy your produce without the fruit flies joining in, keep reading for tips on maintaining your fruit bearing plants and preventing flies from finding them.

Which Fruits Attract Flies

Flies are attracted to just about every type of deliciously sweet fruit there is, including tomatoes. These little critters will start to show up when fruit begins to over-ripen and decompose. Because they like to burrow inside, fruits with a soft flesh are their preference. Fruits with thick skins are far less likely to attract annoying fruit flies. Lychee, watermelons and oranges are just a few examples of fruits that won’t be as susceptible to fruit flies.

Getting Rid of Fruit Flies

As a professional pest control company we understand firsthand how powerful pest control treatments can be. But in the case of fruit flies pesticides aren’t going to do much good. Fruit flies don’t seem to be phased by them and will continue to attack fruits, burrowing into them and laying their eggs.

Flytraps do work to a certain extent, however, they won’t get rid of the problem all together. You can make your own homemade flytraps with apple cider vinegar, a jar, plastic bag and rubber band.

First, put a couple inches of apple cider vinegar in the jar. Then cut off one of the bottom corners of the plastic bag. Put the bag down in the jar creating a funnel with the cut corner at the bottom of the funnel. Finally secure the plastic bag around the top of the jar with the rubber band. The flies will be attracted to the vinegar and once they get in they won’t be able to get out.

Bagging the fruit is another effective method. Do keep in mind this is a very time-consuming process and either cloth or paper bags should be used.

Maintaining Fruit Bearing Plants

The best way to keep fruit flies at bay is to maintain your fruit bushes and trees. Keeping your garden well maintained is the only way to keep fruit flies away before they become a problem. Keep an eye on your fruit and pick them as soon as they start to ripen even if you won’t be able to eat it all.

If you don’t get to the fruit before it ripens that’s when fruit flies will begin to show up. If over-ripened fruit is left sitting on the ground or clinging to the plant for more than a few days it’s almost a guarantee that fruit flies will be hovering around. Clean up fallen fruit ASAP and dispose of the fruit far from the home.

Some fruits like guava can be induced to fruit in the cold months in warmer regions. This will help to prevent fruit flies, which are far less prevalent in late fall and winter. However, this may prove difficult in most areas of Alabama and you have to diligently prune the plants in early fall to produce winter fruit.

Are fruit flies eating away at your produce and sanity? Give Vulcan Termite & Pest Control, Inc. a call. We can come out and provide safe, effective garden pest control treatments that help make your entire yard healthier.

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What Do Flies Eat?

The “fly diet” isn’t some new trend to help you lose weight. That would be pretty gross considering the rotten nature of fly food. The following FAQs explain a fly’s diet, giving you answers to questions such as “what do flies eat?” These answers will help you understand why fly control is so important for you and your family’s health.

What do flies eat?

Just as there are thousands of fly species, flies have many food sources and preferences. The feeding habits of one species varies greatly from another. For example, mosquitoes are a type of fly that feed on decaying organic matter in the water while they are in the larval stage. As adults, they turn to plant nectar for sustenance, though they are better known for sucking blood.
Tachnid flies also feed on plant nectar as adults, but in their larval stage, they dine on other insects. Hessian flies eat grass, while bot flies eat animal tissue. The most recognizable fly – the house fly – sustains itself on rotting food and meat while at the larval stage. The decaying matter is preferably peppered with human, pig or horse feces, if the house fly larvae has its say. As an adult, the house fly prefers sweets, liquids and rotting fruit. And that explains why the “fly diet” was never invented.

How does the house fly eat?

Most flies have mouthparts that are best described as two sponge pads and a straw. Their lips have grooved channels that allow liquid to flow in from the two fleshy pads attached to the fly’s lower lip (the labella). Since they cannot chew, flies have to dissolve solid food into liquid, or at least into particles measuring 0.45 millimeters or less. To do this, the fly regurgitates saliva from its stomach, which dissolves the food until it is digestible. The house fly then uses its proboscis to suck up the liquefied food.
Though they eat with their mouths, house flies taste with their feet. This is why they are always crawling on your food. Since they also “taste” spoiled meat and feces, the last place you want them crawling is on food you’re about to put in your mouth – not to mention flies constantly defecate.

Do fruit flies eat fruit?

Contrary to popular belief, fruit flies don’t actually eat fruit. Instead, they eat the yeast cells that grow on fruit, particularly rotting fruit. That’s why you only see them pop up when fruit gets old, or around garbage storage and disposal areas, since that’s often where people discard rotten fruit.
Flies are dirty, annoying and some species can bite. If you have a fly problem, don’t try to starve them out with some crazy fly diet or home remedy. Contact Terminix®, and cancel their flight plans – permanently.

There are many species of the hoverfly, about 6,000 in fact. The hoverfly is also referred to as the flower fly, or the syrphid fly, but also has many other common names, which are derived

from their behavior of hovering around flowers. Hoverflies typically have black and yellow stripes, much like bees, and wasps as a form of protection. Because of their appearance, they can often be mistaken for a bee or a wasp. This acts as a form of camouflage and helps the hoverfly avoid potential predators who think that they have the capability to sting. They do however only have two wings, while the bee and the wasp have four.

They are also important in pollinating flowers, and are natural enemies of pests. Because of this, farmers have been using them for biological control, a form of pest management.

Similar to most of the insects that hover, the hoverfly hovers while feeding. They do however use it for a different purpose as well. The hoverfly uses their ability to hover to attract mates. The longer the male can stay hovering, and the stability of the hovering, are key components for mate selection among hoverflies. The stability of the hoverfly when hovering is quite amazing to say the least. When hovering, the hoverfly is constantly adjusting its wing pattern and frequency in each wing so that it may stay in the same location, even when it is windy.

As a whole, hoverflies are one of nature’s most impressive flyers, as they possess the ability to hover and fly backwards. This can be attributed their flexible and versatile wings. Hoverflies actually have the most flexible wings out of any flying insect, as they twist their wings 45 degrees over 300 times every second. This flexibility in the wing allows it to have an ideal angle of attack throughout the whole up and down stroke, and is ultimately the reason why they can hover.

Leading edge vortex is also important in the flight of the hoverfly as it is in the flight of all insects, especially since insects are not supposed to be able to fly under the conventional laws of aerodynamics. The leading edge vortex is a vortex created by the leading edge, which creates a lower pressure on the top of a wing, which in turn adds to the overall lift.


By Eric R. Eaton

Joe Donahue

Bee or fly? The Syrphid Fly shown here mimics the Wool Carder Bee because the bee has fewer predators.

Just because it buzzes doesn’t mean it’s a bee. You may be surprised to learn just how many other garden bugs masquerade as bees, including moths, beetles and the real masters of disguise, flies. We have a tendency to think of flies as garbage-infesting, picnic-harassing, bloodsucking pests. But actually, most flies are big allies in the yard and garden. Take a look at these bee look-alikes, and find out why they really are good bugs for your garden.

True bees have relatively long antennae; flies do not. Chuck Hardy

It pays to mimic bees. After all, they can sting to defend themselves, and potential predators know this. Birds quickly learn to associate bold patterns of black and yellow, white or red with trouble. Of course, no fly can actually sting, but flies gain protection by looking like they can.

The most common bee mimics are the hoverflies, members of the Syrphidae family, which resemble small bees or wasps like yellow jackets. Some even sound like wasps, with the frequency of their wing beats matching that of their stinging counterparts. They are garden friendly, helping to pollinate flowers and eat aphids.

The Asilidae family’s robber flies are excellent mimics of bumblebees. Instead of visiting flowers, they perch on foliage, twigs or the ground, and then scan the sky overhead. When another insect flies over, the robber fly zooms off to grab the victim and then returns to its perch. This fly family, too, helps control some of the less desirable garden insects.

Bee flies, also called “wanna-bees,” are in the Bombyliidae family. Their hairy bodies are delicate and can go bald quickly during their brief lives as adults. Many bee flies have a long proboscis that looks much like a mosquito’s bloodsucking snout. No worries, though—bee flies are harmless and feed on flower nectar.

Feather-legged flies in the Tachinidae family really take their disguise to the next level with fake pollen baskets on their hind legs. As adults, they may pollinate flowers; as larvae, they are parasitic on stinkbugs and squash bugs. These flies are certainly good bugs for your garden!

Identifying Garden Bugs: Is it a bee or is it a fly? Look for these characteristics when trying to tell bees from flies. Don’t be afraid to get close. Foraging bees are too intent on what they’re doing to bother with you, and flies have no stingers at all.

The enormous eyes of a robber fly.Bud Hensley

Bees have two pairs of wings, whereas flies have only one set. But since the forewings and hind wings of bees are usually connected, they may appear to have only one pair.

Bees have relatively long antennae. Most flies have very short antennae, with a long bristle called an arista at the tip.

Both bees and flies have compound eyes that excel at detecting motion, which is why it’s so hard to swat them. But flies, unlike bees, have enormous eyes that meet at the top of the head in the male, and nearly so in the female.

Bees have chewing mouthparts and a tonguelike proboscis. Flies have a spongy pad at the end of a flexible “arm,” or a spearlike beak.

Few bees hover, at least for extended periods. Many flies seem to be able to hover indefinitely.

Eric is one of the authors of Kaufman Field Guide to Insects of North America. Visit his blog, Bug Eric, to learn more.

Introduction – Synonymy – Distribution – Identification – Life History and Habits – Hosts – Parasites – Selected References

One of the colorful and common little flies in Florida which is most often mistaken for a harmful fruit fly is Allograpta obliqua (Say), a hover fly, flower fly, or syrphid fly. These flies can hover or fly backward, an ability possessed by few insects other than syrphid flies. Adults often visit flowers for nectar or may be seen around aphid colonies where they lay their eggs and feed on honeydew secreted by the aphids. The adults are considered important agents in the cross pollination of some plants. The larvae are important predators, feeding primarily on aphids that attack citrus, subtropical fruit trees, grains, corn, alfalfa, cotton, grapes, lettuce and other vegetables, ornamentals, and many wild plants. When larval populations are high they may reduce aphid populations by 70 to 100%.

Figure 1. An adult female hover fly, Allograpta obliqua (Say). Photograph by Roy Frye.

Synonymy (Back to Top)

Scaeva obliqua Say, 1823
Syrphus securiferus Macquart, 1942
Sphaerophoria bacchides Walker, 1849
Syrphus dimensus Walker, 1852
Syrphus signatus Wulp, 1867

Distribution (Back to Top)

This hoverfly is found in most of the continental United States from Washington to Maine and into Quebec, Canada, southward to California and Florida; also Hawaii, Bermuda, Mexico, and parts of the neotropical Americas, including the West Indies.

Identification (Back to Top)

The egg is creamy white, sculptured, elongate oval, about .84 mm in length and .25 mm in diameter. The full-grown larva is 8 to 9 mm in length, 2 mm in width, and about 1.2 mm in height. Larvae are elongate oval in shape, somewhat flattened on dorsum, with the anterior end drawn out to a point when the insect extends itself. The integument is finely papillose and transversely wrinkled. The fleshy conical elevations are surmounted with pale spines, colored green, with two narrow whitish longitudinal stripes flanking the dorsal vessel.

Larvae of Allograpta obliqua are almost indistinguishable from those of Allograpta exotica (Wiedemann), which occurs uncommonly in Florida. The puparium is green; the two whitish larval stripes apparent for a day or two. As the true pupa inside takes on the black and yellow color of the adult, the color of the puparium changes until all of the green disappears. The puparium averages 5.25 mm long, 2.5 mm wide, and 2.3 mm high. Posterior elevation is very gradual. The adult is 6 to 7 mm long. This species may be recognized by the generic characters – yellow thoracic stripes and abdominal crossbands; on the fourth and fifth segments, four longitudinal, oblique, yellow stripes or spots; and yellow face lacking a complete median stripe. Eyes of the male are holoptic, those of the female dichoptic.

Figure 2. Egg of Allograpta obliqua (Say), a hover fly. Photograph by James F. Price, University of Florida.

Figure 3. Egg shell of an emerged hover fly, Allograpta obliqua (Say). Photograph by James F. Price, University of Florida.

Figure 4. Larva of Allograpta obliqua (Say), a hover fly. Photograph by James F. Price, University of Florida.

Figure 5. An adult male hover fly, Allograpta obliqua (Say). Graphic by Division of Plant Industry.

Life History and Habits (Back to Top)

Adults of Allograpta obliqua occur throughout the year in northern Florida and have been taken in long series in Gainesville in mid-February, but they become much more abundant during spring and summer. In southern Florida they often are abundant even during the winter months. The life cycle varies from as little as three weeks in summer to nine weeks in winter. The eggs are laid singly on the surface of a leaf or twig which bears aphids. They hatch in two to three days during the summer and within eight days in the winter in southern California (Campbell and Davidson 1924).

Wadley (1931) found that the larval stage took five days, with one larva consuming 242 Toxoptera and another 270. Jones (1922) found that larvae took nine days to develop. Miller (1929) reported a larval stage of 10 to 14 days and that the larvae ate an average of 34 aphids per day. Curran (1920) gave the length of the larval stage as 12 to 20 days and recorded one larva as having eaten 265 aphids, an average of 17 per day. The larva fastens itself to a leaf or twig when it is ready to pupate. The pupal stage takes eight to ten days in summer and 18 to 33 days in winter, according to Campbell and Davidson (1924). Wadley (1931) reported a range of six to 11 days with an average of 8.3 days, Miller (1929) six to eight days, Jones (1922) and Curran (1920) five to 17.

Hosts (Back to Top)

Many species of aphids have been reported to be hosts of Allograpta obliqua. Species of major economic importance listed by Campbell and Davidson (1924), Curran (1920), Davidson (1916), Heiss (1938), Metcalf (1912, 1916) and Thompson (1928) include: Acythosiphon pisum (Harris), Aphis craccivora Koch, Aphis gossypii Glover, Aphis pomi De Geer, Aphis spiraecola Patch, Brevicoryne brassicae (Linnaeus), Chromaphis juglandicola (Kaltenback), Macrosiphum rosae (Linnaeus), Myzus cerasi (Fabricius), Myzus persicae (Sulzer), Rhopalosiphum maidis (Fitch), Schizaphis graminum (Rondani) and Toxoptera aurantii (Fonscolombe).

Other aphid hosts reported by those listed above are: Amphorophora sonchi (Oestlund), Aphis cardui Linnaeus, Aphis lutescens Monell, Aphis rumicis Linnaeus, Aphis viburnicola Gillette, Capitophorus braggii (Gillette), Capitophorus fragaefolii (Cockerell), Hyalopterus artiplicis (Linnaeus), Macrosiphoniella sanborni (Gillette), Macrosiphum euphorbiae (Thomas), Myzocallis alhambra Davidson, Rhopalosiphum fitchii (Sanderson) and Theriophis bella (Walsh). In addition to aphids, Aleyrodidae (whiteflies) have been reported to serve as hosts for the larvae of this syrphid.

Parasites (Back to Top)

Allograpta obliqua larvae, and occasionally pupae, are heavily parasitized, even exceeding 50% some years. The hymenopterous parasites which attack Allograpta obliqua as listed in Muesebeck et al. (1951, 1958, 1967) include the following species of Ichneumonidae: Diplazon laetatorius (Fabricius), Diplazon scutellaris (Cresson), Ethelurgus syrphicola (Ashmead), Homotropus pacificus (Cresson), Syrphoctonus flavolineatus (Gravenhorst) and Syrphoctonus fuscitarsus (Provancher); one species of Pteromalidae: Pachyneuron allograptae Ashmead; and one species of Ceraphronidae: Conostigmus timberlakei Kamal.

Selected References (Back to Top)

  • Bhatia ML. 1939. Biology, morphology and anatomy of aphidophagous syrphid larvae. Parasitology 31: 78-129.
  • Butler GD Jr, Werner FG. 1957. The syrphid flies associated with Arizona crops. Arizona Agricultural Experiment Station Technical Bulletin 132: 1-12.
  • Campbell RE, Davidson WM. 1924. Notes on aphidophagous Syrphidae of southern California. Bulletin of the Southern California Acadamy of Science 23: 3-9; 59-71.
  • Curran CH. 1920. Observations on the more common aphidophagous syrphid flies (Dipt.). Canadian Entomologist 53: 53-55.
  • Davidson WM. 1916. Economic Syrphidae in California. Journal of Economic Entomology 9: 454-457.
  • Davidson WM. 1919. Notes on Allograpta fracta O.S. (Diptera: Syrphidae). Canadian Entomologist 51: 235-239.
  • Fluke CL. 1929. The known predacious and parasitic enemies of the pea aphid in North America. Wisconsin Agricultural Experiment Station Research Bulletin 93: 1-47.
  • Heiss EM. 1938. A classification of the larvae and puparia of the Syrphidae of Illinois exclusive of aquatic forms. University of Illinois Bulletin 36: 1-142.
  • Jones CR. 1922. A contribution to our knowledge of the Syrphidae of Colorado. Colorado Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 269.
  • Kamal M. 1939. Biological studies on some hymenopterous parasites of aphidophagous Syrphidae. Egyptian Ministry of Agriculture Technical Service Bulletin 207.
  • Knowlton GF, Smith CF, Harmston FC. 1938. Pea aphid investigations. Utah Acadamy of Science Proceedings 15: 73-75.
  • Krombein KV. et al. 1958. Hymenoptera of America north of Mexico — Synoptic Catalog. USDA Agricultural Monograph No. 2, First Supplement. 305 pp.
  • Krombein KV, Burks BD. et al. 1967. Hymenoptera of America north of Mexico — Synoptic Catalog. USDA Agricultural Monograph No. 2, Second Supplement. 584 pp.
  • Metcalf CL. 1912. Life-histories of Syrphidae IV. Ohio Naturalist 12: 533-541.
  • Metcalf CL. 1916. Syrphidae of Maine. Maine Agricultural Experiment Station Bulletin 253: 1-264.
  • Miller RL. 1929. A contribution to the biology and control of the green citrus aphid, Aphis spiraecola Patch. Florida Agricultural Experiment Station Technical Bulletin 203: 431-476.
  • Muesebeck CFW, Krombein KV, Townes HK, et al. 1951. Hymenoptera of America north of Mexico — Synoptic Catalog. USDA Agricultural Monograph No. 2. 1420 pp.
  • Say T. 1823. Descriptions of dipterous insects of the United States. Acadamy of the Natural Sciences of Philadelphia Journal 1: 45-48.
  • Smith RH. 1923. The clover aphid: Biology, economic relationships and control. Idaho Agricultural Experiment Station Research Bulletin 3: 1-75.
  • Stone A. et al. 1965. A Catalogue of the Diptera of America north of Mexico. USDA Agricultural Handbook No. 276. 1696 pp.
  • Thompson WL. 1928. The seasonal and ecological distribution of the common aphid predators of central Florida. Florida Entomologist 11: 49-52.
  • Tilden JW. 1952. Observations on the habits of certain syrphids. (Diptera). Entomological News 63: 39-43.
  • Wadley FM. 1931. Ecology of Toxoptera graminum, especially as to factors affecting importance in the northern United States. Annals of the Entomological Society of America 24: 325-395.
  • Weems HV Jr. 1951. Check list of the syrphid flies (Diptera: Syrphidae) of Florida. Florida Entomologist 34: 89-113.
  • Weems HV Jr. 1954. Natural enemies and insecticides that are detrimental to beneficial Syrphidae. Ohio Journal of Science 54: 45-54.
  • Williston SW. 1886. Synopsis of the North American Syrphidae. U.S. Natural History Museum Bulletin 31: 1-335.

Corn Flies Have Invaded the Evansville Area – What You Need to Know

Corn Flies, Hover Flies, heck, I’ve even heard them called P****r Flies. Whatever you want to call them, they are everywhere in the Evansville area these days, and I think we can all agree, regardless of what they’re name is, they’re annoying AF.

I first noticed the little buggers over the weekend while attending a family get together in Boonville. As we sat out back grilling burgers and hot dogs, the kids playing on a Slip and Slide, and the adults playing Corn Hole, we were constantly swatting at them, or brushing them off our legs and faces. When I looked down at the yard, you could see them hovering; hundreds, if not thousands of them flying around being irritating.

On Sunday, I played a round of golf at Christmas Lake Golf Course in Santa Claus, and the story was the same. While hitting a few balls on the practice range, you had to swat a few away before you took a swing. When we got back to our golf carts to drive to the first tee, the seats were covered in them.

So what are they exactly, and should we be concerned? Here’s what you need to know —

Please State Your Name

We call them Corn Flies, however they’re known to the science community as “Flower Flies”, a member of the Syrphidae Family according to Like the common house fly, they begin as maggots before blossoming into the pesky adults we’ve seen all over the place this summer.

According to Purdue University Field Crop Entomologist Christian Krupke, in an interview with Ryan Reynolds from the Evansville Courier-Press, they thrive in warm, muggy air like Kanye West thrives in his constant need for attention. What have we had a ton of this summer? Rain and humidity. Making the Tri-State a veritable Sandals Resort for our winged visitors.

A Feast Fit for a King

As their name suggests, Flower Flies feast on flower pollen and nectar, including that of corn plants, which we clearly have in abundance here in Southern Indiana (hence the nickname Corn Flies), making them an important of the pollination process according to the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. Some varieties also feed on other insects that cause damage to crops and gardens making them beneficial in that aspect as well.

They’re Harmless

Although they appear to look like some sort of bee or wasp, the Flower Fly is harmless. It has no stinger, and doesn’t bite. Their appearance is actually their natural defense. By mimicking the look of their stinging brothers and sisters, the Flower Fly avoids being eaten by predators such as birds who are looking to avoid getting bitten by their potential dinner.

A search for “corn fly repellent” brought up millions of results, many of which seemed to more for flies in general, not just Corn, Flower, Hover, P****r, or whatever you want to call them flies. It looks like we’ll be stuck with them for awhile until the weather cools off enough to kill them off.

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Hover fly (Purdue University) Posted: Aug. 04, 2016 SHARE

By Ryan Reynolds of the Courier and Press

Posted: Aug. 04, 2016 0

Midwest summers: Heat, humidity and bugs.

This summer, there has been a noted increase in the hover fly population. You may also know the bug as the corn fly. The little yellow-and-black creatures are pretty much everywhere in Southern Indiana. Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois right now.

“The adults are everywhere,” said Christian Krupke, a field crop entomologist for Purdue University. “They’re heaviest close to agriculture, which is everywhere in Indiana.”

They start out as maggots, eventually growing to the little flies that hover in the muggy summer air, occasionally darting around and, now and then, landing on exposed skin. Krupke said hover flies love to feed on the pollen that collects where the leaf meets the stem on a corn plant. Hover flies also love the salt and moisture that collects on human skin.

So on especially humid days, sweaty people become quite the hover fly hangout.

“And they need salt, which is pretty scarce for insects.”

The population spikes, Krupke said, are generally climate-driven, but officially, “we don’t have an answer” as to why there are sudden upticks in hover fly presence.

Hover flies are often mistaken for sweat bees or yellow jackets. Purdue offers a reminder of an old adage about telling the creatures apart: “Two wings, fun; four wings, run.” Hover flies have only a single pair of wings, while bees and wasps have two pairs.

GREENFIELD — Often, the colors of black and gold found together in nature instill a sense of fear and encourage avoidance both in humans and other species. And when they are accompanied by an endless buzzing and activity that violates our personal space there is often a call to action to remove the “offender.”

One good example of this can be found in the recent appearance of small hovering black and gold colored “sweat bees” that are being reported across central Indiana. They can be found dancing about our landscapes in an annoying (some say “threatening”) manner.

Well, let’s clear the air on this issue.

First, they are likely not bees. They are flies — hover flies or syrphid flies — and while their antics can be annoying, they are entirely harmless and in fact are very beneficial. While there may well be other bees and wasps present with similar coloration, hover flies are true flies so they cannot sting.

Hover flies also have other names such as sweat “bees” or flower flies depending on their habits and habitats and I have recently even heard the referred to as corn flies though I am not sure of any correlation.

Hover flies are much better at hovering than bees and wasps. In fact, they can even fly backwards with ease. With wing beats alone, they effortlessly hang out over flowers until the right moment to descend to feed on flower nectar or pollen.

They are true foodies as they meticulously enjoy each morsel. In dry years, these same insects may land on us to gather a drink of sweat, hence their sweat bee name which does sound better at least than “perspiration bee.”

Insect stings are no fun, and for some people can be life-threatening. There are indeed several Indiana wasps and bees that are capable of stinging. However, since their goals in life are feeding and reproducing, even true bees and wasps prefer not to sting unless threatened.

There are smaller, darker bees called sweat bees that can also hang around us and these can sting if you accidentally squish them.

Yellowjacket wasps also have the characteristic black and yellow coloration and can, and often, do sting.

This time of year they are seeing sweet food sources and I associate them with hanging around trash cans and associated sweet soft drinks, overripe fruit etc.

Yellowjackets don’t hover as well, are more obnoxiously persistent and are larger at one half inch with a more pointed head. Yellowjackets are insects with an attitude. If possible, slowly move away from yellowjackets instead of trying to swat them and only managing to make them mad.

Hover flies don’t deserve the bad reputation so well-earned by similarly colored yellowjackets.

They are significant pollinators and their larvae are essential predators of garden pests. The larvae love a good meal of aphids. Hover fly larva suck out the aphid juices and toss the exoskeleton.

Hover fly larvae are also important predators of pests, such as scales, thrips and caterpillars, and should be protected from insecticidal sprays, even something as seemingly benign as insecticidal soaps.

According to Cornell University each larva can consume 400 aphids before they become an adult fly. That’s 400 aphids that you don’t have to spray to control. When hover fly larvae populations are high, they may control 70 to 100 percent of an aphid population. Aphids alone cause tens of millions of dollars of damage annually to crops worldwide, so the aphid-feeding hover flies are being recognized as potential agents for use in biological control.

If you would like to increase the number of hover flies in your landscape, white or yellow flowers with easy-to-access nectar and pollen such as sweet alyssum, parsley, dill, yarrow, clover and buckwheat are especially attractive to adults and planting these can be a good way to bring them into your home garden.

Rather than being considered harmful, hover flies are a win-win for gardeners since not only are their larvae munching on the bad guys, but the adults are great pollinators.

Let the black and gold color pattern be a reminder of concern only for the insects with stingers and Purdue rival football teams.

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