Hoverfly vs Bee: The Differences and Why It Matters

Hoverflies and bees are both common visitors to gardens, but they serve different roles in the ecosystem.

Although they may appear similar at first glance, these insects have distinct features and behaviors that set them apart.

Hoverflies belong to the family Syrphidae and are often found darting around flowers in search of nectar.

They are known for their ability to hover in one spot for short periods, which is a key characteristic that distinguishes them from bees.

One of the primary benefits of hoverflies in gardens is their natural ability to control aphids and other small insects, as their larvae are voracious predators of such pests.

On the other hand, bees are members of the order Hymenoptera and play a crucial role in pollination.

Unlike hoverflies, bees collect both nectar and pollen, which they use to feed their young and produce honey.

While hoverflies have free-living predatory larvae, bee larvae are fed and cared for directly by adult bees within their hive.

In summary, while both hoverflies and bees can be mistaken for one another due to their appearance, these two insects belong to different families and carry out unique roles in supporting a healthy ecosystem.

From aphid control to pollination, both species bring valuable benefits to our gardens and environment.

Hoverfly vs Bee: Basics

Classification of Hoverflies and Bees

Hoverflies belong to the insect order Diptera, which encompasses all types of flies. Bees, on the other hand, are part of the order Hymenoptera, which also includes ants and wasps1.

Physical Appearance

Hoverflies:

  • Eyes: Large and usually touching at the top of the head2
  • Wings: One pair1
  • Antennae: Short and stubby2

Hoverfly vs Bee
Hover Fly

Bees:

  • Eyes: Relatively smaller and not touching3
  • Wings: Two pairs3
  • Antennae: Elongated3

Coloration and Markings

Both hoverflies and bees display yellow and black patterns on their bodies4. However, they vary in size and body shape:

HoverfliesBees
Smaller in size5Larger in size3
Slender body shape2Stocky body shape3

Examples of hoverflies include the drone fly and the marmalade hoverfly, while bees have species like honey bees, bumblebees, and carpenter bees35.

Their coloration and markings are used as a defense mechanism to ward off predators by mimicking the appearance of stinging insects5.

Behavior and Diet

Feeding Habits

Hoverflies and bees both consume nectar as their primary food source, but their feeding habits differ slightly.

Hoverflies:

  • Feed on nectar and pollen from flowers
  • Larvae mainly feed on aphids, making them beneficial for gardens

Bees:

  • Feed on nectar and store it as honey
  • Some species, like bumblebees, also consume pollen

Pollination and Plants

Both hoverflies and bees play critical roles as pollinators in ecosystems. They transfer pollen between plants, promoting plant reproduction.

Common plants visited:

  • Hoverflies: sunflowers, marigolds, daisies
  • Bees: lavender, rosemary, thyme

Reproduction and Lifecycle

Hoverflies and bees have distinct life cycles, which are mainly dictated by their reproduction strategies.

Hoverflies:

  • Lay eggs on plants near aphid colonies
  • Larvae hatch and feed on aphids, growing through several stages (molts)
  • Pupa stage occurs before becoming an adult

Bees:

  • Queen bee lays eggs in a colony
  • Worker bees care for eggs and larvae
  • Larvae grow and become pupae, then emerge as adult bees

Tiger Bee Fly

Comparison Table:

 HoverfliesBees
Main DietNectar and pollenNectar (stored as honey)
ReproductionEggs laid on plantsEggs laid in bee colonies
Pollination RoleSignificantSignificant

Remember to include both hoverflies and bees in your garden to support efficacious pollination and plant reproduction throughout the spring and summer seasons.

Distinguishing Features

Wing Structure

  • Hoverflies: They belong to the insect order Diptera, which means they have two wings.
  • Bees: They are part of the order Hymenoptera, and they have four wings.
FeatureHoverfliesBees
Wing count24

Mouthparts and Waist

  • Hoverflies: Their mouthparts are adapted for feeding on nectar in flowers, while their waist is usually slender.
  • Bees: They have mouthparts suited for both nectar and pollen collection and possess a distinct “waist” between the thorax and abdomen.

Buzz and Proboscis

  • Hoverflies: They are known for their hovering ability, and many species have a shorter proboscis.
  • Bees: They produce a distinct buzz when flying and often have a longer proboscis for reaching nectar in various flower types.

Examples of hoverfly species include Scaeva pyrastri, a common species in the Pacific Northwest, whereas honeybees are a well-known bee species.

Some hoverflies, such as drone flies and corn flies, mimic the appearance of bees to deter predators.

Mimicry and Defense Mechanisms

Batesian Mimicry

Hoverflies and bees, such as metallic green sweat bees or honeybees, exhibit a phenomenon called Batesian mimicry, where harmless species mimic the appearance of dangerous ones to deter predators.

For example, the hoverfly sometimes resembles bumblebees or other stinging bees with similar patterns and colors.

Color variations in hoverflies can include –

  • Metallic green
  • Blue
  • Gray

Stinging Capabilities

 HoverflyBee
StingingNoYes
VenomousNoYes
Danger LevelHarmlessVaries
ExamplesHoneybee, Sweat Bee

Hoverflies, being harmless mimics, do not possess stinging capabilities or venom, whereas various types of bees, like honeybees and sweat bees, do.

This makes bees potentially dangerous for predators, while hoverflies are not a threat.

The pain level caused by a bee sting depends on the species – honeybees, for instance, cause intense pain, while sweat bees have a milder sting.

In addition to these tactics, some species, like giant honeybees, deploy unique defense mechanisms.

They generate heat by raising their abdominal temperatures to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit to fend off smaller predators like wasps.

Benefits and Drawbacks

Beneficial Insects in Gardens

  • Hoverflies: As pollinators, they assist in maintaining healthy plant growth in gardens.
  • Bees: They are key pollinators for various types of crops, flowers, and plants.

Both hoverflies and bees are vital pollinators that help with the growth and health of plants in your yard.

Adults often visit flowers to feed on nectar, providing them the necessary energy and nutrients to reproduce.

Pest Control

  • Hoverflies: Their larvae are voracious predators of aphids, controlling their population size.
  • Sweat Bees: While their focus is primarily on pollination, some species are known to prey on insects like ants.

Hoverfly larvae love munching on aphids, ensuring your garden stays pest-free. Sweat bees may occasionally contribute to pest control, though their impact is generally smaller.

Stinging Insects

Hoverflies are rather harmless insects that do not sting.

On the other hand, bees, while beneficial, can sting when they feel threatened, which may result in pain, swelling, and allergic reactions in some individuals.

Danger

  • Hoverflies: They mimic the color and patterns of wasps and bees to gain protection from predators, posing no real threat to humans.
  • Bees: Although vital for pollination, bees may pose a threat, especially for those who suffer from severe allergic reactions.

While hoverflies may look similar to bees, they don’t pose any danger to humans.

Conversely, bees can be hazardous to individuals with allergies or sensitivity to their sting, making them a potential threat in gardens.

Common species and Distribution

Bees: Social vs Solitary

Bees can be classified into two main types: social and solitary.

  • Social bees, like honeybees and bumblebees, live in colonies led by a queen bee.
  • Solitary bees, such as sweat bees and carpenter bees, live and lay eggs independently.

Some solitary bees have a metallic appearance, like the aptly-named metallic sweat bee.

In general, solitary bees are less aggressive than social bees, resulting in fewer conflicts with humans and other mammals.

Tiger Bee Fly

Hoverflies: Syrphidae and other Families

Hoverflies, also known as flower flies or syrphid flies, belong to the family Syrphidae.

They are voracious predators of aphids and can be found feeding on nectar and pollen.

Characteristics of hoverflies include:

  • Resemblance to bees and wasps for protection
  • Ability to hover, hence the name
  • Larvae (maggots) preying on pests

North American Distribution

Both bees and hoverflies are widely distributed across North America.

The 4,000 native bee species in the United States can be found outdoors, pollinating a wide range of plants.

Similarly, hoverflies also play a significant role in pollination and pest control.

Here’s a comparison table between bees and hoverflies:

FeatureBeesHoverflies
TypeInsectInsect
FamilyApidae (and others)Syrphidae
DietNectar, pollenNectar, pollen (adults), aphids (larvae)
PollinationMajor roleContributory role
AggressivenessSocial (more), Solitary (less)Generally non-aggressive

As the regional distribution of these pollinators may differ, understanding specific species found within an area can be crucial to support local ecosystems and agricultural practices.

Conclusion

Hoverflies and bees, while superficially similar, play distinct roles in our ecosystem.

Hoverflies, belonging to the Syrphidae family, are recognized for their hovering ability and their larvae’s role in controlling aphids.

They feed on nectar and are valuable pollinators, though not as efficient as bees.

Bees, members of the Hymenoptera order, are crucial pollinators collecting both nectar and pollen. They produce honey and have a structured colony life.

While both contribute significantly to pollination, understanding their differences, from feeding habits to reproductive strategies, is essential for appreciating their unique contributions to our environment.

Footnotes

  1. https://hgic.clemson.edu/little-hover-flies-are-a-big-beneficial-insect/ 2

  2. https://hort.extension.wisc.edu/articles/hover-flower-or-syrphid-flies-syrphidae/ 2 3

  3. https://askabiologist.asu.edu/honey-bee-anatomy 2 3 4 5 6

  4. https://entomology.ces.ncsu.edu/2015/06/hoverflies-bee-mimics-provide-pollination-and-biocontrol-services/

  5. https://www.usgs.gov/centers/eesc/science/native-bee-inventory-and-monitoring-lab 2 3

Reader Emails

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

Letter 1 – Moroccan Insects

Subject: My Moroccan Insect Pix
Location: Morocco
November 24, 2016 10:09 am
Dear Daniel Marlos:
Just happened upon your site and decided to let you know about my own minor efforts in entomology.

I spend a good deal of my time (retired) in Morocco and one thing I do is take photos of all sorts of subjects, including plenty of ‘bug’ pictures – especially bees and butterflies. Many are as yet to be uploaded since I’m trying to learn the basics about taxonomy but, alas, it’s slow going!

Perhaps you could take a few minutes and look at some of the galleries. If you, or another entomologist, might see scientific value in helping with identification, that would certainly reinforce me efforts. I just did a Google image search for ‘Bees of Morocco’ and see that the majority of images that come up are my own.

The website is: darbalmira.com You’ll see the table of contents on the left side with the various insects photos as submenus. As I said, I have lots more photos but have been holding back since I think it’s important to put a name on living creature – not just ‘bee’ or ‘bug’.
Thanks for any help or suggestions you might offer.
Jearld Moldenhauer
Signature: Jearld Moldenhauer

Bee Fly
Bee Fly

Dear Gearld,
Your images are beautiful, especially that of the only one we can identify to the family without research.  It is the green-eyed Bee Fly from the family Bombyliidae.  Today is American (USA) Thanksgiving and our staff is cooking, so we will attempt a species identification at a later time, as well as trying to identify your Hymenopterans. 

In the future, please only submit one insect per submission.  It makes it easier to classify.  The only exception would be insects in the same family or those that have a symbiotic or predator/prey relationship. 

You should know that our editorial staff is composed of artists, not entomologists, so we cannot commit to identifying your unknown critters, but if you send them to us, one individual per submission, we will be happy to research to the best of our ability. 

Letter 2 – Bee Fly

Moth?
Location: Griffith Park, Los Angeles, CA
September 28, 2011 1:01 am
Dear Bugman,
I was at Griffith Park in Los Angeles with my son when we spotted this winged insect. In person, the bug looked like a moth with very sharp, jagged wings.

In the picture the wings appear much more translucent and less jagged than they did in person. Please help identify.
Thank you!!
Signature: Curious Bug Mama

Bee Fly: Xenox habrosus

Dear Curious Bug Mama,
At first we thought this might be a Tiger Bee Fly,
Xenox tigrinus, but we learned on BugGuide that the Tiger Bee Fly is an eastern species.  We believe this is its western relative, Xenox habrosus, which is represented on BugGuide with Los Angeles area postings. 

Daniel is doing a talk on October 15 at 2 PM at the Lummis Home along the historic Arroyo Parkway (Pasadena Freeway) to benefit the gardens.  The talk is on beneficial bugs and is entitled Butterflies, Bees and Things That Go Bump In The Night.  Since this talk is about local species, you photo, which is of excellent quality, will probably be included in the powerpoint presentation.

Letter 3 – Bee Fly in Swimming Pool

Subject: Bee? Fly? Wasp? Insect?
Location: Adairsville, Georgia, USA
May 30, 2016 4:43 am
These things with a pointy mouth like to float in my swimming pool for several minutes then fly off. I can approach them and touch them. Other than flapping their wings a little bit, they keep on floating.

What are they? Can they bite or sting me? We’ve had this pool since 2009 and last year was the first time these showed up. There were only a couple last year at a time. This year there’s maybe a dozen in the pool at one time.
Signature: Darla

Bee Fly
Bee Fly

Dear Darla,
This is a harmless Bee Fly in the family Bombyliidae, a group of pollinating insects.  They do not bite nor sting.  We are curious what is attracting them to your pool.  This behavior does not seem normal, and we are guessing they are accidentally flying into the pool after visiting blossoms nearby. 

We do not believe they are purposely taking a dip.  Because we will be out of the office for a spell in June, we are postdating your submission to go live to our site during our absence.

I’m very glad to hear this!  Our pool is an above ground pool in Adairsville, GA.  We were out there again yesterday and about 1:00 PM, they started stopping by again.  They float in the water for several minutes then fly away.  If we touch them, they flap their wings a little but go back to floating. 

I cupped my hand under a couple of them and let the water roll off gently leaving the Bee Fly on my hand.  They would then fly off quickly.  Our pool has chlorine in it.  They were still there when we got out of the pool about 4:00 PM.  They come and go throughout the day.  If you figure out why they are coming to the pool, I’d love to know.  Sounds like it could be interesting!
Thank you,
Darla Williams

Letter 4 – Bee Fly

Bug identity ????
Couple of summers ago this was found flying around us on the deck in Prospect , Ontario, Canada. Harmless , I think…It was on my hand without incident. Any Ideas ?
Mike

Hi Mike,
We knew it was a fly, and suspected it was a pollen feeding species, but we really had to go to Eric Eaton for something more concrete. He quickly got back with this reply: “Another fine image! This is a pristine specimen of a bee fly in the genus Lepidophora.

We have images at BugGuide.net that I think are identified to species (there aren’t very many species in the genus). Very nice:-) Eric” We took Eric’s advice and checked out BugGuide where we found this beauty identified as Lepidophora lutea.

Letter 5 – Bombylius Bee Fly

What is it?
This bad looking critter was hanging upside down on my young pecan tree. The Pecan tree looks like it is not going to make it.
David R. WIlliams
Gainesville, GA

Hi David,
We wrote to Eric Eaton for a positive ID on your fly and here is what he wrote:
“Thankfully it is one I do recognize:-) It is a bee fly in the genus Bombylius, probably B. major, as they are common across the continent. They are parasites of solitary bees.

The proboscis is for sipping nectar, not for sucking blood! ” The Audubon Guide claims: “Bee Flies are capable of hovering motionless while waiting for a female bee but can dart quickly in pursuit. They often settle on foliage or bare ground, but are difficult to capture because they are so alert and quick.” At any rate, they are not the cause of your pecan tree not going to make it.

Letter 6 – Bee Fly

Bee Fly
Thought you might like to see a Bee Fly from the San Gabriel Mountains of California. I think it’s an ordinary Bombylius but the proboscis is amazing nonetheless. Thanks for having such a great resource!
Adriano

Hi Adriano,
Thanks for sending in a fabulous photo of a Bee Fly.

Letter 7 – Bee Fly

HUMMING BIRD HAWK MOTH.
I saw a strange type of moth in the garden hanging upside down on my acer tree. I looked in a book and think it is a humming bird hawk moth. However all those I have seen in the pictures have antenna and mine doesn’t. It has the same legs and a furry body and the humming bird front and the two eyes on the side but not antenna.

Is mine a humming bird species or not, I will attach it to this. It was taken looking at its underside because it was hanging upside down. I do hope that you can help me… I would be very grateful if you could help me.
Regards
Barbara

Hi Barbara,
Your photo is such an unusual angle. This is not a hummingbird hawk moth. It is a Bee Fly in the family Bombyliidae. Since you did not provide a location, we are reluctant to try to give you a species.

Letter 8 – Bee Fly


We found three of these pretty little Bee Flies on our Butterfly Bush late this afternoon. We took a few photos and quickly identified our Bee Fly as Exoprosopa doris on BugGuide.

Letter 9 – Bee Fly

What is this?
Hi there:
I was wandering through the forest and found this. I looked through your photos and did not notice an exact match. I do suspect it is some sort of hummingbird moth. It was about the size of a wild honeybee.

There were others in the area much larger and more colourful but too quick to photograph. The picture was taken in Nova Scotia. Thanks for your time. A very interesting website you have.
Tom

Hi Tom,
This is a Bee Fly in the genus Bombylius. We are not certain, but we believe it is Bombylius pygmaeus as evidenced by images posted to BugGuide.

Letter 10 – Bee Fly

Bugs are fun
Hello, I’ve been living in central Georgia for the past four years and I’m amazed by all the different species of insects that are out here. Can you please identify this flying bug for me?
Dan

Hi Dan,
We knew it was a fly, and suspected it was a Bee Fly. We quickly identified your Bee Fly as Ogcodocera leucoprocta based on a single photo taken in South Carolina and posted to BugGuide. Joel Kits posted this comment to the BugGuide page: “Nice find! This is Ogcodocera leucoprocta , which occurs from Quebec south through the eastern U.S. to central Mexico.

It is one of only two described species in the genus (the other occuring in Texas, Arizona, and Mexico).” We found two additional photos posted on a Bee Fly webpage. There is also a very detailed photo posted to the Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification website that is associated with the aforementioned Joel Kits. Since we couldn’t really locate any specific information on this species, which is a new species for our site, we will include this general information on Bee Flies grabbed from BugGuide:

“Identification Hairy, often brightly colored flies. Legs usually slender, Wings often have dark markings, held outstretched at rest. Face not hollowed out. Eyes almost touching above, especially in males. Proboscis either short with broad tip, or long and used to take nectar. Hover and dart, rather like syrphid flies.

Often seen about flowers. Females sometimes seen hovering over sandy areas, dipping abdomen to oviposit. Range cosmopolitan Food Adults often take nectar (or pollen?). Life Cycle Eggs are typically laid in soil near host. Larvae feed on immature stages of beetles, bees, wasps, butterflies/moths, or on eggs of grasshoppers. Life cycle usually one year in temperate areas. “

Letter 11 – Greater Bee Fly

clear wing spynix moth?
Hi, I love your site. While watching the honey bees enjoy the first nectar of the year, I spotted what looks like a petite clearwing sphinx moth. I’ve never seen or heard of one so small – smaller than a honey bee. After watching for a few days, I’ve seen there are several of the little guys visiting our flowers. These little fella’s have a rigid proboscis (is proboscis accurate?), and the largest of them are slightly less than 1 inch long (measuring from head to rear of abdomen). Please help me to accurately identify them. Thank you.
Rachel, West Virginia

Hi Rachel,
This is a Greater Bee Fly, Bombylius major. Proboscis is the proper term for its mouth.

Letter 12 – Bee Fly

Bee fly- species not on your site Hialeah Florida
At least I couldn’t find it. I’m in Hialeah, Florida and I took this photo today in my yard, when I was looking for something to sketch. I tried to identify it on your site and then on the bee fly site you mentioned in a link. ( http://www.giffbeaton.com/Bee%20Flies.htm

The closest one was a Chyrsanthrax species. As Tropical Storm Fay was affecting the weather, it’s possible this little fly was blown far from its usual haunts. I don’t remember ever seeing one before. —
Marian Mendez

Hi Marian,
You did a great job on your identification. Though the pattern on the abdomen is not typical of the species, we have found examples of Chrysanthrax cypris from Florida on BugGuide that match your photograph. We suspect Fay had nothing to do with your sighting, however, you might expect to find some other typically tropical insects after the storm.

Letter 13 – Bee Fly

What’s this fly?
July 29, 2009
I found this fly in our back garden. While it was flying, it appeared to be a black colored moth, but when it was still, it appears to be a fly with oily-colored wings with clear-ish patches. Seen in late July, sunny mid-afternoon.

There are lots of blooming hyssop, garden phlox and echinacea in the vicinity of the bug sighting, but when it generally landed on the ground. That’s wood mulch in the picture.
The Guy Who Walks Around His Garden With a Camera Just In Case He Sees a Bug He Thinks Looks Cool
Sun Prairie, Wisconsin (just northest of Madison)

Bee Fly
Bee Fly

Dear Guy with Camera,
This is a Bee Fly and we believe it is Exoprosopa decora based on images posted to BugGuide.  It does not have a common name other than the generic Bee Fly.

Letter 14 – Bee Fly

What is this thing?
September 5, 2009
This landed on my hand today. I don’t know if it is a mosquito, a bee or a fly.
White Wolf Spirits
Houston, TX area

Bee Fly
Bee Fly

Dear White Wolf Spirits,
Your confusion is quite understandable.  This is a Bee Fly, a fly that resembles a bee.  It is a pollinating insect, and it may have been attracted to that glinting rock on your finger.

Letter 15 – Bee Fly

Flying fuzzy critter
May 16, 2010
My husband and I spotted this fascinating little guy on a dried blueberry branch in our backyard in April this year. His/her wings beat so fast that they looked like a hummingbird’s. I don’t where to begin to look him/her up. Hope you can help!
Love your site and thanks for your valuable donated time.
Betsy
Southestern Pennsylvania near Philadelphia

Bee Fly

Hi Betsy,
This is a Bee Fly in the family Bombyliidae, but we are unable to determine the species.  We apologize for the delay, but we were experiencing technical difficulties.

Letter 16 – Bee Fly

fly-like bug in Maine
Location:  Maine
August 28, 2010 7:44 pm
I took this picture of a fly-like bug on an Asiatic Dayflower while hiking in Maine. Can you help me identify this bug?
Sally

Bee Fly

Hi Sally,
This really is a beautiful Bee Fly.  Though we could not identify the exact species, we found a match on BugGuide that was identified to the genus level of
Poecilognathus.

Letter 17 – Bee Fly

Identification Please
Location: Tucson, AZ
December 22, 2010 4:52 pm
Dear Bugman,
I photographed these two insects and I need an identification. …  The second photo is of a insect on Mt. Lemmon, Tucson, and it was taken in July of last year. Thank you so much
Signature: -Harrison

Bee Fly

Hi again Harrison,
Your second insect is a Bee Fly in the family Bombyliidae, and it is different from most of the Bee Fly images we receive.  We believe it may be in the genus
Geron based on images posted to BugGuide, including one image in particular that was also taken in Arizona.

Letter 18 – Bee Fly

flylike on butterfly bush
Location: new jersey
August 12, 2011 4:12 pm
can you please id ?
Signature: susan

Bee Fly

Hi Susan,
This is a Bee Fly, and it appears to be a match for the
Exoprosopa fasciata group, however, we cannot find an exact match for the body coloration, though the wing veinage seems to be an exact match.  See BugGuide for the many variations in this group that is characterized by “the wing color along the leading edge.”

Letter 19 – Bee Fly

Fly on Little Ladies Tresses
Location: Sayville, NY
August 25, 2011 9:02 am
Greetings,
I located a small stand of Spiranthes tuberosa in Sayville, New York. I noticed this beautiful little fly sucking nectar from the the orchids. The fly didn’t seem to favor any of the other flowering plants in the area. What is this fly? There were several of these flys on the orhids. Thanks!
Signature: Derek

Bee Fly

Hi Derek,
We recognized this individual as a Bee Fly in the family Bombyliidae, but we did not recognize the species.  We quickly browsed through the possibilities and identified it as
Peocilognathus unmaculatus on BugGuide.

Bee Fly

Letter 20 – Bee Flies swarm acid green safety vest

Flying insect
Location: Central Western Oklahoma
October 4, 2011 11:22 pm
I got swarmed by these when wearing a yellow/green safety vest, but they left me alone after I took it off. I doubt they can even bite, but I didn’t like them swarming me.

The subject of the first two pictures tried landing in my ear; I stunned him when I swatted him away and thus the pictures. The one in the white background sat still enough for me to photogragh him.

They’re just larger than houseflies and have many of the same attributes (flying patterns, iridescent wings, compound eyes, etc.) Any thoughts? I’ve not seen them before.
Signature: Carson in Oklahoma

Bee Fly

Dear Carson,
We are positively fascinated that you were swarmed by Bee Flies, while wearing one of those acid green safety vests. 

There must be some light reflectance of the vest that is similar to certain blossoms that the Bee Flies feed upon.  Bee Flies are harmless.  Many flowers are yellow. 

Here is a Bee Fly on BugGuide that is attracted to a yellow flower.  We are not sure of your species, but you may search BugGuide for that identification.

Letter 21 – Bee Fly

Fly
Location: Denton, Tx
November 7, 2011 9:16 pm
What type of fly is this?
Signature: Anthony K.

Bee Fly

Dear Anthony,
This is a Bee Fly in the family Bombyliidae, a group of pollinating insects.  We believe we have correctly identified your individual as a member of the genus
Geron based on this image from BugGuide.

Letter 22 – Bee Fly

Subject: yellow fly
Location: SW of Ridgecrest, CA
June 27, 2012 10:25 pm
What fly is this? It was on a rabbitbrush in Joshua tree/pinyon pine habitat
Signature: Shelley Ellis

Bee Fly

Hi Shelley,
This really is a beautiful golden Bee Fly and we believe we have identified it as being in the genus Lordotus thanks to images posted on BugGuide.

Letter 23 – Bee Fly

Subject: Please identify…
Location: 44°45’30” North and 76°29’52” West
July 13, 2012 11:22 am
Hello,
Could you please identify the insect in the image. I took the image July 12th 2012 at Farren Lake, Ontario, Canada. The insect which somewhat resembles a mosquito was basking in the sun on the deck umbrella. I’ve showed the image to several people, no one recolonizes what it is…
Thank you for your time.
Signature: Daniel Hills

Bee Fly

Hi Daniel,
This unusual hump-backed creature is a Bee Fly in the genus
LepidophoraWe believe it is Lepidophora lutea because it has a more northerly distribution according to reports on Bugguide

It is also noted on Bugguide that:  “Larvae develop in solitary wasp nests as either kleptoparasites or parasites.”  The family members are known as bee flies because many members resemble bees and they visit flowers for nectar.  Unlike bees, they do not sting.

Letter 24 – Bee Fly

Subject: Black-striped yellow fly with long snout.
Location: On border of Ontario/Minnesota (BWCAW)
August 9, 2012 10:01 am
Hi! I just found your website and it is heaven to a bug lover like me.
I’m hoping that you can ID this fly for me… thanks!
Signature: If new, do I get to name it?

Scaly Bee Fly

Dear If new, do I get to name it?
This is either a Scaly Bee Fly or another member of the genus
Lepidophora.  The process for naming a new species is rather involved and generally includes publishing a technical paper describing the species. 

You may read more about the genus on bugGuide which includes this information:  “Larvae are kleptoparasites of solitary wasps (Vespidae, Sphecidae)”.  True Parasites feed off of a host.  Kleptoparasites eat the food supply provided for the host by its parents.

Thank you for your response! I tried looking through your database, but couldn’t seem to get to the right area.

Letter 25 – Bee Fly

Subject: Bee or Fly
Location: La Marque, Texas
November 2, 2012 10:46 pm
I see these around my yard all the time. They are super fast! & Super small! They remind me of hummingbirds how they fly, and they will not allow me to get close before they zip off out of sight. Are they flies? are they bees?
Signature: Thanks in advance, Texas Finest

Bee Fly

Dear Texas Finest,
This is actually a fly.  Flies are distinctive among insects as they have a single pair of wings while other flying insects have two pairs.  Your fly is in the family Bombyliidae and the members are commonly called Bee Flies because they resemble bees.  Your confusion is understandable.

Letter 26 – Bee Fly

Subject: Fly ID
Location: Starr County, Texas
March 25, 2013 5:05 pm
We found this fella feeding on suflowers in South Texas. Long longs, long proboscis – definitely designed for feeding on these flowers. Can you identify?
Signature: Tim

Bee Fly
Bee Fly

Dear Tim,
This is a Bee Fly in the family Bombyliidae.  We would prefer to leave a species identification to a Dipterist or someone else who specializes in the family or order.  Bee Flies are pollinating insects and you can read more about them on BugGuide.  It appears this might be a member of the genus
Bombylius, but often superficial visual similarities exist across genera.  You may also read about Bombylius on BugGuide.

Letter 27 – Bee Fly

Subject: White Bee with partial black wings?
Location: Central New Mexico, USA
July 10, 2014 9:17 pm
Hi! I’ve been a fan of your site for many years now, so when I found this little cutie I knew just who to ask. I had looked up pictures of white bees but none of them had the partial black wings as this one did.

Genetic mutation perhaps? New species? Or just a different bee? He seemed very docile, let me hold the leaf he was on for a good bit, and even let me get up close and personal for the pictures. He left sometime later when I wasn’t paying him any attention. Please, what kind of bee do we have?
Signature: The bee finder

Bee Fly
Bee Fly

Dear bee finder,
You are going to have to change your moniker from “the bee finder” to “the bee fly finder” if you are referring specifically to the individual in the images.  Bee Flies in the family Bombyliidae are very effective mimics of our apian friends, and like bees, Bee Flies are efficient pollinators. 

It sure looks like Hemipenthes celeris, which we located on BugGuide, where it indicates New Mexico as part of the range.  Alas, this pretty creature has no common name other than the nonspecific family name.  That is very patriotic nail polish.  Was is special for Independence Day?

Thank you very much for such a fast response!
It’s no wonder I wasn’t getting anywhere with my searches, I was looking completely in the wrong places. Now I can put my search efforts in the right direction and learn all I can about these pretty little flies. Oh, and thank you! The nail polish was done for the Independence day holiday. 🙂

The post we created right after your posting is another example of patriotic nail polish.  We love posting images of women who are not afraid to handle bugs.

Awesome! 🙂 As long as it’s not a Wasp or a Blisterbug I’m good, haha

Letter 28 – Bee Fly from Sweden

Subject: Unknown fly with golden fur
Location: Fiskeboda, Sweden
July 24, 2014 6:37 am
I found this yellow hovering fly sun bathing on my concrete stairs on a hot summer day in the beginning of June. First I thought it was some kind of hoverfly, but I was unable to find one that looked like the one I saw. I would be very happy to get some help identifying this fly.
Signature: Andreas R

Bee Fly
Bee Fly

Dear Andreas,
This is a Bee Fly in the family Bombyliidae, probably in the genus
Bombylius.  The wing pattern is similar to, but not exactly like that of the Large Bee Fly pictured on the Natural History Museum website.

Letter 29 – Bee Fly

Subject: Bee fly
Location: Williams, AZ
July 28, 2014 12:41 pm
Could this be some type of bee fly? It was pretty large–maybe about an inch long.
Signature: Chris

Bee Fly
Bee Fly

Dear Chris,
Yes, this is a Bee Fly in the family Bombyliidae, however we are not certain of the genus or species.  Our best guess at this time is the Sinuous Bee Fly,
Hemipenthes sinuosa, and this image on BugGuide looks very close. 

The pattern on the wing seems correct, but the body is lighter than the individuals pictured on BugGuide where it states:  “black area of wing has irregular sinuous (wavy) border with a small rounded blob near the apex – a distinguishing feature abdomen, thorax, and head black or very dark with no banding or other obvious markings”.

Letter 30 – Bee Fly

Subject: Daniel – What’s This Fly?
Location: Hawthorne, CA
August 19, 2014 6:19 pm
Hello,
I thought I’d discovered all of the flies that could possibly come to our little patch, but here’s another. Can you please help? It spent a lot of time on catnip blooms and the adjacent native geranium (I think I have it properly distinguished from geranium.) It is very shy and moves fast, but came back over and over again.
Signature: Thanks, Anna Carreon

Bee Fly
Bee Fly

Hi Anna,
We believe we have correctly identified your Bee Fly as 
Dipalta serpentina based on this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide:  “Larvae are parasitoids of pupae, and perhaps also larvae, of antlions (Myrmeleontidae)” and “In Calif. species is most abundant in August and September” which makes your sighting right on schedule.

Bee Fly
Bee Fly

Thanks!  We just love sighting “new to us” creatures in the back.
Anna

Letter 31 – Greater Bee Fly

Subject: Unknown Bug
Location: South Bend, IN
April 9, 2015 5:35 am
Dear Bugman,
I was out for a hike yesterday afternoon in South Bend, IN and I saw lots of these bugs flying around close to the ground. I would like to know what it is so I can learn more about it.
Signature: Bug Lover

Greater Bee Fly
Greater Bee Fly

Dear Bug Lover,
This is a Greater Bee Fly, a harmless pollinating insect.

Letter 32 – Bee Flies and a Longhorned Bee

Subject: Adorable Bees
Location: 15 miles North of Plankinton, SD
August 7, 2015 11:34 am
Dear Bugman,
Can you help me identify these adorable fuzzy bees? I believe they are a native species. They are very docile, feeding on coneflowers, I can gently touch their abdomens.

They enjoy watering time, as it is quite hot and dry! There is also a couple of other species of small bees in the pics. Thanks so much. My father and son love your site!
Signature: Kate, Nature Lover

Bee Flies
Bee Flies

Dear Kate, Nature Lover,
Though they resemble Bees, most of the insects in your images are Bee Flies in the family Bombyliidae, probably in the Tribe Bombyliini which is pictured on BugGuide

Bee Flies and other True Flies can be distinguished from other insects, including Bees, because Flies have a single pair of wings and most other insects have two pairs of wings.  Bee Flies, which do not sting, benefit from their resemblance to stinging Bees.  One of your images includes a single Bee Fly on the same blossom as what appears to be a Longhorned Bee.

Bee Flies
Bee Flies
Longhorned Bee (left) and Bee Fly
Longhorned Bee (left) and Bee Fly

Letter 33 – Greater Bee Fly

Subject: Bug identification
Location: Cambridge, England
April 19, 2016 3:19 am
Please could you tell me what this is I found it in my garden
Signature: Ann Clarke

Greater Bee Fly
Greater Bee Fly

Dear Ann,
You did not specify which City of Cambridge, but since your Greater Bee Fly,
Bombylius major, is found in both North America and Europe, it does not affect our identification.  The Greater Bee Fly is a harmless, beneficial pollinator.

Cambridge in England.

Letter 34 – More Bee Flies at WTB? Office: Dipalta serpentina

Subject:  Bee Flies are Dipalta serpentina
Location:  Mount Washington, Los Angeles, California
September 17, 2016 1:30 PM
Earlier in the week, we posted an image of a Bee Fly we identified as
Villa lateralis and we wrote about a brown Bee Fly that we were unable to capture as an image.  Well, today we took several images of the same brown Bee Fly species, and as the afternoon progressed, we got additional images. 

At one point, we got images of four individuals taking nectar from the blooming chives, and after putting the camera away, we spotted a fifth individual.  We are relatively certain we have correctly identified these Bee Flies as Dipalta serpentina thanks to this BugGuide image.  According to BugGuide:  “For many years it was stated that Dipalta were parasitoids of antlion larvae. … 

However, the 1989 paper by Leech & Leech demonstrated a clear instance of Dipalta serpentina parasitizing the pupal stage of an antlion (rather than the larval stage). D. serpentina might also parasitizes antlion larvae, though it seems to be in question (earlier observers may have not observed carefully enough to distinguish between larval & pupal parasitism).”

Bee Fly
Bee Fly
Bee Fly
Bee Fly
Two Bee Flies
Two Bee Flies
And then there were four Bee Flies
And then there were four Bee Flies

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.

    View all posts
  • 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.

    View all posts

15 thoughts on “Hoverfly vs Bee: The Differences and Why It Matters”

  1. These days, new species are only named after a lot of very careful research by scientists who are experts in that particular family of beasties. And the chance of your finding something new are in general pretty slight. Unnamed species of reasonable-sized creatures (as opposed to microscopic ones) are not often found, except in very far-flung parts of the world.

    However… people who are fortunate enough to come across a population of some beastie that seems to be undescribed, well, if they are able to get the material to an expert who decides that it does indeed need to be named as a new species, then you have to hope that the scientist is kind enough to base the new species name on your name. This is something that is not inevitable, but it does quite often happen.

    Reply
  2. Hi, I am from Massachusetts and was visiting a local park yesterday and I believe this is what was intertwined with another and fell from a tree into my car through the window. I honestly thought it was a two bees and since I am allergic to bees I immediately got out of my car and found a way to remove them without hurting them. I was wondering if Lordotus are in MA. I live in the Berkshires and was totally amazed at their beauty. I should of took a picture, but was more concerned about being stung.

    Reply
  3. I write about bugs for master gardeners in Maricopa, AZ (Phoenix). I found this bug in my
    yard yesterday and would like to know it’s life cycle, etc., but can’t find anything anywhere.
    Can anyone help? Thanks

    Reply
    • We have already provided numerous links within the posting upon which you have commented. We have also supplied a scientific name, which should make your additional research relatively easy.

      Reply
  4. I write about bugs for master gardeners in Maricopa, AZ (Phoenix). I found this bug in my
    yard yesterday and would like to know it’s life cycle, etc., but can’t find anything anywhere.
    Can anyone help? Thanks

    Reply
  5. We had some of these around our pool last night too. Except they seemed to be attacking us. Have no idea why! We were only swimming. They bit though! There was 3 of them. Unless they were something else completely? But if that’s the case, then what are they? They really ruined a good time. Had to get out of the pool.

    Reply
  6. It is possible they are attracted to the color of the pool. They don’t sting or bite. If these animals are near you, there must be flowers and open space nearby. That is good.

    Reply
  7. We have tiny bees in our above ground pool. They showed up a few years ago. And, yes, they do sting. It’s gotten worse every year. Now there are hundreds a day. We can’t lay in the pool. We get in and direct them to he skimmer. Help !!!

    Reply
  8. I do not have a photo. I live in a chalky thuya tree area of Morocco. Very dry. My caretaker showed me what looked like a bundle of fluff from a hoover, about 4 inches by 2 (c10 cm by 5). He gingerly unwrapped it using 2 sticks, and eventually out clambered a large beetle or spider, a beetle like body, larger than a scarab beetle, with several black legs. About two inches long, 5 cm, rounded body. In the fluff were several beetles, dung and others, presumably the larder of this insect. Sadly my caretaker hurled it over a wall before I could take a photo. but I thought the habit of capturing dung beetles and keeping them in a hard packed fluff larder must be distinctive. Google no help so far.

    Reply
  9. They do sting or bite! and dive they do not just float they swim and Fly! We are in eastern MT. it is August and our pool just seemed to get an infest over night. I have been in many various waters and have never seen this insect. Flying diving stingray they use their wings as fins also. Their mosquito type stinger does leave a painful sore

    Reply

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