Hoverflies are abundant in my back garden now that the weather is warm and sunny; although hoverflies feed on nectar, some of the species’ larvae eat aphid and other pests so it is always good to encourage them into the garden.
The only problem is, although some feed on aphids; other larvae feed on plants in your garden and it is very hard to tell one from another species so I just tend to try to encourage all and hope that it’s the helpful ones that turn up. Over one-third of hoverfly species eat aphids and only 30 species (ten percent or so) damage plants so the odds are in your favour.
They all have varying decorative stripes in order to imitate a more dangerous insect, usually wasps but also honey bees and bumble bees. Besides getting the pattern slightly wrong, they also only have two wings instead of four so you can tell the difference easily when they are close up. Females usually have eyes set far apart with the males having eyes very close together or touching on the top of the head.
I think I have around four species at the moment – there is another giant one that I saw last year but that one has turned up yet, though it is early days.
This first one is, as far as I can tell; is Eupeodes latifasciatus, the stripes are said to resemble spectacles or sometimes a moustache depending on the gender of the species. I can see what they mean but I wouldn’t bet my life on the difference between spectacle looking stripe vs moustache style. This one feeds on nectar and the larvae feed on aphids and scale – I saw quite a few of these so hopefully some eggs were laid.
This one can be confused with the species above but the stripes don’t complete all the way across; Eupeodes luniger. Apparently, the females have hairy back legs and then the male can sometimes have fused stripes resembling spectacles hence the confusion with E. latifasciatus above. This one also has larvae that feed on aphids so hopefully as they are the two most common seen it will be of help to my garden this growing season.
This one is Epistrophe eligans – this species is the only of its genus to not have stripes all the way down. All Epistrophe have yellow legs and the female having brighter stripes but usually in the same pattern as the males. Yet again, another aphid eating larvae – jackpot three for three.
This last one is a Melangyna species – I am not going to commit to the binomial name as it was hard to tell from the photos. I wouldn’t want to ruin my world renown excellent hover fly identification naming reputation. Most of these species eat aphids as well so here is hoping this is one of them.
This extra photo is from last year as I haven’t seen this large hover fly so far this year. Apparently, it was rare in Britain until the 1940s and then became increasingly more common in the south-east of England (elsewhere it is uncommon; due around May and peak numbers in July) It is Volucella zonaria, the largest of the U.K hoverflies and it is said to resemble a hornet – I actually thought it was until it landed and saw it was a fly not a wasp – told Mr Urban Farmer he could stop screaming he was safe. They are part of five species that have a yellow ‘nose’ and lay their eggs inside wasp or bee nests – the larvae either eat waste or other wasp larvae depending on the species.
(Update: July 31st) During the summer see if you can leave some water with organic material in it somewhere undisturbed in your garden. I just found the small tray I use to collect the worm tea has rail tailed maggots in it.Rail tailed maggots are the larvae of the very common drone fly Eristalis tenax; a great pollinator; markings vary greatly but usually an hourglass shape seem in orange is common. The larvae are named as they have a fat body and very thin tail longer than their body (they resemble a rat) and use the tail as a breathing tube in the water they live in. The water had sediment and some fallen leave/soil in it so this allows the larvae to swim and feed on bacteria. They pupate in drier areas but still keep the tail so look like a tiny mouse. If we are super neat and clean in the garden there will be many pollinators unable to live in the garden as we deem the larvae to be too unsavoury to habitate.
So next time you see a hover fly, you can say you know at least four species that will help you out in the garden – hopefully it is one of them.
This year I have planted several sunflowers (obviously not blooming yet) hoping to attract more predatory insects to my garden with the nectar. Do you plant any flowers to attract hover flies and others. Any suggestions you could give me?
Large one is V.zonaria