Hoverfly: All You Need to Know – A Quick Guide for Enthusiasts

Hoverflies, also known as flower flies or syrphid flies, are part of the insect family Syrphidae. These fascinating creatures are often mistaken for bees or wasps due to their color patterns, which mimic stinging insects as a form of protection from predators.

With their unique hovering flying pattern, hoverflies can be commonly found visiting flowers in gardens and other blooming environments. They play an important role as natural enemies of aphids, scale insects, and thrips, particularly during the larval stage of their life cycle.

In addition to being beneficial predators, hoverflies also contribute to pollination as they visit flowers to feed on nectar and pollen. While enjoying these food sources, hoverflies inadvertently transfer pollen between flowers, assisting with their fertilization and the overall health of plant populations.

Hoverfly Identification and Appearance

Hoverflies, also known as flower flies or syrphid flies, belong to the family Syrphidae. They are often mistaken for bees or wasps due to their similar appearance. However, there are a few key differences that make it easier to distinguish them.

These flies are usually 1/8 to 1 inch long, with a robust or slender body. Hoverflies have a distinct black body, featuring bands or stripes of orange, yellow, or white, resembling the patterns of stinging bees or wasps1. Some species have a brown or metallic appearance as well2.

While bees and wasps have two pairs of wings, hoverflies are part of the insect order Diptera, which means they have only one pair of wings3. Additionally, hoverflies have large eyes and distinct antennae, unlike bees and wasps4.

Some examples of common hoverflies include the Scaeva pyrastri and the Episyrphus balteatus5.

A simple comparison table to help identify hoverflies:

Feature Hoverfly Bee/Wasp
Body Size 1/8 – 1 inch Varies
Color Black w/ Bands Varies
Wings 1 Pair 2 Pairs
Eyes Large Smaller
Antennae Distinct Less distinct

Hoverfly Life Cycle and Reproduction

Eggs

Hoverflies lay their eggs near aphid colonies, as their larvae feed on aphids. The eggs are usually white or light brown and are laid on the undersides of leaves or other surfaces close to the aphid colonies. Some examples of plants where hoverflies lay their eggs include:

  • Milkweed
  • Yarrow
  • Goldenrod

Larvae and Maggots

Once the eggs hatch, the larvae, also referred to as maggots, immediately start feeding on aphids and other small insects. The hoverfly larvae have a tapered, legless, maggot-like appearance and are usually green, brown, or cream-colored. Some key features of hoverfly larvae include:

  • Aphid consumption: Each larva can consume hundreds of aphids during its development
  • Camouflage: Larvae blend in with their surroundings to avoid predators

Pupa

After consuming enough aphids, the hoverfly larvae pupate and undergo metamorphosis. The pupa is typically brown and can be found in the soil or on leaf surfaces. During this stage, the hoverfly does not feed and remains motionless until it emerges as an adult.

Hoverfly Stage Pupal Location
Larvae Soil or leaf surfaces
Adults Emerge from the pupa

Adult Hoverflies

Adult hoverflies, also known as syrphid flies or flower flies, are often mistaken for bees due to their black and yellow stripes. They play an essential role in pollination and pest control.

Distinct characteristics of adult hoverflies:

  • One pair of wings: Unlike bees, hoverflies have only one pair of wings
  • Size: They vary in size from 1/8 to 1 inch long
  • Mating: Adult hoverflies mate to lay eggs and continue the life cycle

In conclusion, the hoverfly life cycle includes four stages: eggs, larvae/maggots, pupa, and adult hoverflies. These beneficial insects play a vital role in pollination and maintaining a balanced ecosystem by controlling aphid populations.

Role in the Ecosystem

Hoverflies play important roles in various ecosystems, providing ecological services such as pollination and pest control.

Pollination and Plant Benefits

Hoverflies are efficient pollinators because they visit numerous flowers to consume nectar and gather pollen. By doing so, they contribute to plant reproduction and ensure gardens thrive with diverse flora. Some benefits of hoverfly pollination include:

  • Improved yield in fruits and vegetables
  • Enhanced biodiversity in plants
  • Supporting the lifecycle of other beneficial insects

For example, hoverflies are known to pollinate a wide range of flowers, contributing to the overall health of the ecosystem.

Natural Pest Control

In addition to pollination, hoverflies also serve as natural pest controllers, mainly in their larval stage. Hoverfly larvae consume common garden pests like aphids, helping maintain balance within ecosystems. They are considered valuable natural controls and contribute to population regulation of aphids.

Examples of this pest control can be seen in crops like lettuce, where hoverfly larvae help protect the plants from damage caused by aphids. Some practices enhance hoverfly populations, like planting nectar-producing plants that hoverflies prefer, resulting in better pest control for nearby fields.

Predators and Prey

Hoverflies, like other insects in ecosystems, have their own predators and prey.

Predators:

  • Birds
  • Spiders
  • Other predatory insects

Prey:

  • Aphids (by hoverfly larvae)
  • Pollen and nectar (by adult hoverflies)

Overall, hoverflies are an essential part of the ecosystem, providing pollination, plant benefits, natural pest control, and contributing to the intricate web of predators and prey. By understanding their role, we can appreciate their impact on our gardens, crops, and the environment.

Hoverfly Distribution and Habitat

Hoverflies, also known as flower flies or syrphid flies, are a diverse group of important pollinators and natural enemies of various pests. They can be found in many regions around the world, inhabiting various ecosystems.

These flies are often spotted around flowers due to their preference for nectar and pollen as food sources, giving them the nickname “flower flies.” They can be found in gardens, orchards, and other places with abundant nectar-producing plants.

Some common species of hoverflies, such as the Scaeva pyrastri, are known to inhabit the Pacific Northwest region and can be found in orchards.

Hoverflies are generally found in areas with:

  • Abundant flowers
  • Suitable habitats for their larvae
  • Availability of prey, such as aphids and scale insects

In order to support hoverfly populations, conservation efforts may focus on providing nectar-producing plants like alyssum. This encourages hoverflies to inhabit areas adjacent to crop fields, benefiting both the pollination process and pest control efforts.

Interaction with Humans and Animals

Hoverflies are known to be beneficial insects, providing several advantages to humans and the ecosystem. Their role as pollinators [7-10] and larvae being biocontrol agents of aphid crop pests [11] demonstrates their value (source).

Adult hoverflies feed on nectar in flowers, while their larvae are voracious predators of aphids. This dual function makes them indispensable to the agricultural sector and a natural pest control method (source).

Their appearance resembles bees or wasps, a clever form of mimicry that potentially protects them from predators (source).

For a clearer understanding, here’s a table highlighting key differences between hoverflies, bees, and wasps:

Feature Hoverfly Bee Wasp
Body Shape Slender, robust Plump Slender
Wings 1 pair 2 pairs 2 pairs
Distinguishing Easily hover in place Furry body Thin waist
Characteristic Prominent eyes, antennae Collect pollen, stinger Aggressive, stinger

Considering their interaction with humans and nature, some key points about hoverflies are:

  • Play a vital role as pollinators and pest control agents
  • Mimic bees and wasps for protection
  • Are integral to maintaining ecological balance
  • Positively impact agriculture and gardening

In summary, hoverflies play a significant role in both human and natural ecosystems. Their ability to pollinate and control aphid populations ensure that they remain an essential link in our environment.

Hoverfly Pests and Diseases

Hoverflies, also known as flower flies and syrphid flies, are beneficial insects in gardens and agricultural fields. They are natural enemies of aphids and other small, slow-moving insects. They are often confused with bees or wasps due to their similar appearance, but they are harmless.

Adult hoverflies mainly feed on nectar and pollen, while the larval stage is predaceous, feeding on pests like aphids, scale insects, and thrips. A healthy population of hoverflies can significantly reduce pest populations.

Pests

  • Aphids
  • Scale Insects
  • Thrips ()

In general, hoverflies themselves are not associated with any specific pests or diseases. However, they can be affected by common insect predators such as:

  • Parasitic Wasps
  • Predaceous Beetles
  • Spiders

Diseases
Few diseases affect hoverflies, but they can sometimes be subject to fungal or viral infections, like many other insects.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Natural pest control
  • Increase pollination
  • Attractive appearance

Cons

  • Can be mistaken for stinging insects
  • Require proper management to maintain populations

In the table below, hoverflies are compared to another natural predator, ladybeetles:

Feature Hoverflies Ladybeetles
Adult Diet Nectar and pollen Aphids and other small insects
Larval Diet Aphids, scale insects, thrips Aphids and other small insects
Mimicry Resemble bees and wasps Distinctive black spots on red or orange body
Ecosystem Impact Natural pest control, pollinators Natural pest control, some species can become pests themselves

Managing hoverfly populations can be as simple as providing flowers rich in nectar and pollen for the adults, attracting more hoverflies to your garden and helping maintain a natural balance of beneficial insects.

Footnotes

  1. Syrphids (Flower Flies, or Hover Flies) – ucanr.edu

  2. Little Hover Flies are a Big Beneficial Insect | Home & Garden …

  3. Hover, Flower or Syrphid Flies (Syrphidae) – Wisconsin Horticulture

  4. Hover Fly | NC State Extension – North Carolina State University

  5. Syrphid Flies (hover flies, flower flies) – WSU Tree Fruit

Reader Emails

Over the years, our website, whatsthatbug.com has received hundreds of letters and some interesting images asking us about these insects. Scroll down to have a look at some of them.

Letter 1 – Corn Tassle Fly is actually Hover Fly, but which species????? Toxomerus politus

 

Subject: Corn Tassel Fly
August 4, 2014 8:58 pm
I have a picture of said insect (That is what we in Indiana call them too…corn fly or corn tassel fly) and would like to contribute to your information.
Signature: Chawn Essary

What species of Syrphid???
What species of Syrphid???

please use the Ask What’s That Bug? link on our site and use Corn Tassel Fly as the subject line.

I have tried 3 times to submit that way and it just keep processing and never finishes? (the little arrow went around so much, I think I got dizzy! LOL)
So, here you go “Bug Man”!!
Thanks for your awesome site!
Best Regards,
Chawn

Hover Fly
Hover Fly is Toxomerus politus

Hi Chawn,
Though your images are enormous, our email program should have handled 12M worth of attachments.  Perhaps your internet connection was slow.  Do you generally have problem emailing such large attachments?  More that ten years ago, we received an identification request from Illinois with no images that described a Corn-Tossle Fly, and based on the description, we decided it was a Flower Fly, also called a Hover Fly, from the family Syrphidae.  The common name Flower Fly refers to their pollinating behavior and the name Hover Fly refers to their ability to fly in place.  Your images confirm that identification.  Interestingly, we cannot find any other references to that name, but we must confess we only did a quick and superficial search for the term.  Flies in the family Syrphidae are highly beneficial.  The adults help to pollinate plants and the larvae feed on garden pests including aphids.  Alas, we could not locate an exact match to your Corn Tassle Fly on BugGuide, however, we suspect that based on its physical appearance, your individual is in the subfamily Syrphinae, and perhaps you will have better luck navigating BugGuide to a species identification than we had.  It is also worth noting that many flies in the family Syrphidae mimic bees or wasps, and since the Hover Flies are perfectly harmless, this affords them some protection.  We have greatly enlarged the Hover Fly and cropped tightly in the hope that one of our readers will be able to identify the species, or at least the genus for us.

Hover Fly
Hover Fly hovering

Update:  August 17, 2014
Thanks to Kevin Moran who wrote in identifying the Corn Tassle Fly as 
Toxomerus politus which we located on BugGuide, though the common name is not indicated.  Kevin also provided a link to this pdf http://syrphidae.lifedesks.org/pages/25598/pdf  that provides this information:  “The larvae of Toxomerus politus (Say, 1823) also known as ‘the corn-feeding syrphid fly’, feed on pollen and sap from the saccharine cells of corn (Zea mays L.) (Marín A.1969; Smith 1974)”

Letter 2 – Flower Flies

 

Subject:  what’s this bug?
Geographic location of the bug:  Houston, Texas.
Date: 11/08/2017
Time: 10:53 AM EDT
They love flower juice.
How you want your letter signed:  Tan Doan

Flower Flies

Dear Tan,
These are Flower Flies or Hover Flies in the family Syrphidae.  Many members of the family mimic bees and wasps to help deter predators.  Adults are beneficial pollinators and larvae eat Aphids and other small detrimental insects found on plants.

Letter 3 – Immature Flies may be Hover Fly larvae

 

Immature Dipterans
Immature Dipterans

Subject: Bug found in bedroom
Location: Swingfield Street, Kent
October 15, 2014 4:45 am
Found several of these bugs on the carpet in the bedroom on returning from a week or so away from the house.
What are they?
Signature: Anthony

As you can not tell from the pictures, I should have said that it is soft and moves a bit like a caterpillar and that the dark portion is at the tail end not the head.
I had a video that showed the above but it was rather big so I did not send it.
I am attaching the photos again in case it is difficult to tie up the 2 emails.
Regards,
Anthony.

Immature Dipterans
Immature Dipterans

Dear Anthony,
We are unable to provide anything more than a very general identification at this time.  This is an immature Dipteran, the insect order that includes Flies.  They remind us of the larvae of a Bot Fly, but we cannot be certain.  See this posting on BugGuide.

Letter 4 – Probably Hover Fly from New Zealand

 

Subject: Bee or fly

Location: New Zealand
January 27, 2017 7:02 pm
Hi Bugman… can you identify this bug for me. The closest I can find is that it is a NZ Hoverfly, I have never seen one before so I am very interested in finding out the information you have about it. It was flying around inside yesterday (28.01/17) It is suppose to be summer here in New Zealand, but the weather here is very spring like. Yes I took the photo myself in our lounge. I hope it is clear enough.
Thank you
Signature: Ngaire Faull

Probably Hover Fly

Dear Ngaire,
Flies have one pair of wings while most other insects, including bees, have two pairs of wings.  Your insect appears to be a fly, judging by its shape and what we are able to make out of the antennae, but there is not enough detail in your image to be certain.

Thanks Daniel.. what sort of fly? Did you see the one yellow stripe and that long stinging looking thing off its behind?

We agree with comments provided by Cesar Crash that this is probably a Hover Fly

Authors

    by
  • Bugman

    Bugman aka Daniel Marlos has been identifying bugs since 1999. whatsthatbug.com is his passion project and it has helped millions of readers identify the bug that has been bugging them for over two decades. You can reach out to him through our Contact Page.

  • Piyushi Dhir

    Piyushi is a nature lover, blogger and traveler at heart. She lives in beautiful Canada with her family. Piyushi is an animal lover and loves to write about all creatures.

27 thoughts on “Hoverfly: All You Need to Know – A Quick Guide for Enthusiasts”

  1. This looks to be Toxomerus politus.

    Although I can’t find any articles, if my memory serves me right the common name of this fly is indeed the corn fly or corn tassel fly. It got this name from Native American religious leaders who knew to associate the fly with a good corn harvest. When they saw this fly, they would then tell their followers that the gods had told them that they would be blessed with an abundant corn harvest.

    The reason for this association is that this fly likes to breed on aphid colonies that live on corn ears and tassels. Thus when corn was in abundance there were many aphids and in turn many of these flies.

    Reply
  2. So a correction. It seems the fly is feeding on corn pollen and not the aphids. There is a reference to them feeding on aphids but it is considered doubtful. I can’t find anything to back up the story but I’ll keep looking. Here is a link to a pdf that compiles some references about the fly and notes its association with corn.

    http://syrphidae.lifedesks.org/pages/25598/pdf

    Reply
  3. Hi Anthony.

    Did you find out what those bugs where as I found the exact same bugs in my bedroom carpet a few days ago but didn’t take a picture.

    Reply
  4. Hi Anthony.

    Did you find out what those bugs where as I found the exact same bugs in my bedroom carpet a few days ago but didn’t take a picture.

    Reply
  5. Hi

    We live in Surrey and have also found the odd one or two of these recently in a bedroom. We would be really interested to know what they are – they seem to appear on the carpet from nowhere obvious.

    Reply
  6. Hi

    We live in Surrey and have also found the odd one or two of these recently in a bedroom. We would be really interested to know what they are – they seem to appear on the carpet from nowhere obvious.

    Reply
    • How to go outside and not be aggravated by the tassel flies. Are they something to put on ( smell ) that will keep them away. Any thing????

      Reply
  7. We call these “sweat bees” in deep southern Illinois. They are very irritating when trying to sit outside. And, in my experience, they DO bite or sting. It leaves a welt that is painful and itchy. The more you scratch it, the worse it hurts. I hate them!

    Reply
  8. The day before yesterday I was sitting in the garden of a coffee bar in San Francisco with a friend of mine. A flower fly that looked very much like the fly in this photo kept circling his chicken sandwich, but Frank was sure it was a bee with an attitude. I could see it was some sort of syrphid fly—I collected insects when I was a kid—but a bee-sized flying insect with a striped behind is and always will be a bee from Frank’s point of view. I mention this little story not only because of the coincidence, but because one of the reasons I read your site is that I’ve become interested in how people perceive the insects they encounter.

    Reply
  9. I don’t know if any hoverfly species are predacious as adults, but I think that generally they are just flower-feeders. Does anyone even check the slightly older posts?

    Reply
    • We meant to write “pollinators” and because we were thinking too far into the sentence, we accidentally wrote “predators” which should have referred to the larvae and not the adults. Thanks for catching our error which we have now corrected.

      Reply
  10. Bugman,You know what, I have watched them and they will eventually sting or bite, might take a while but they will,,as for the wasp comment, most of us KNOW when we are wasp stung, we are not dumbasses as you seem to imply.

    Reply
  11. I live in Southern Illinois and these corn flies DO bite oh, there are welts all over my legs right now from them. There is a huge corn crop right across the street in our rural area where we live and trust me, they do bite me everyday.

    Reply
  12. I have been “bugged by Corn Flies” for 40 years..Every time we raise corn close to the house here they come. The drier the weather the worse they are. I HAVE NEVER BEEN Bit or stung from once of these little pesky guys.

    They are a real PIA but I would appreciate a tip on a repellent.

    Reply
  13. Any stings from small flying insects this time of the year in Tennessee are so-called sweat bees. Slap them with a rolling motion to avoid a sting.

    Little yellow single wing set flies are harmless. I am 69yrs old and have caught them by hand all my life with no harm. Use a two finger pinch to catch them

    Reply

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