Let us understand the differences between a sweat bee vs hoverfly vs wasp, because all three of them look very similar to each other.
There are millions of different types of insects found worldwide. Some look entirely different from each other, and some look almost identical.
Due to similarity in appearance, it is quite a challenge to identify them to be able to take the necessary precautions against them.
Hoverflies, sweat bees, and wasps are classic examples of this. These insects have several behavioral and physical differences, but at first glance, they look identical.
In this article, we will help you understand the various similarities and differences between these species.
Similarities Between Wasps, Sweat Bees, and Hoverflies
A sweat bee, a hoverfly, and a wasp are quite similar in terms of appearance.
In fact, it can be a challenge to differentiate between these species without knowing the basic details and body structure.
All these insects have brightly colored bodies with black and yellow stripes on their abdomen.
These bright colors signal the predators that the insects are an unappealing snack and meal.
Hoverflies and sweat bees are also particularly fond of the salty sweat in humans. You can find them buzzing around, especially when you are sweating.
Hoverflies mimicking the movements and appearance of stinging insects is an excellent example of Batesian mimicry.
A harmless creature tries mimicking the appearance and movements of the toxic and dangerous ones.
This helps them to survive better and to avoid predators.
Other examples of Batesian mimicry are Coral snakes and King snakes. These two are similar in appearance, but the coral snakes are highly poisonous.
The king snakes, on the other hand, are harmless. Due to this, predators and other animals steer clear of these king snakes and refrain from attacking.
Sweat Bee Vs Hoverfly Vs Wasp: Differences
Now that we have listed the notable similarities between various species of hoverflies, we will list several differences between them.
Yes, they look similar, but there is a wide variety of differences between the two.
If you are not able to identify a hoverfly, you might chase them away, thinking they are some sweat bee species.
But since they are active hunters of aphids and excellent pollinators, they are considered beneficial insects.
All these insects look identical, but if you look closely, you can point out many differences in their appearance.
For starters, sweat bees have a coat of tiny hair on their body, and hoverflies are entirely hairless.
Sweat bees can be identified by their metallic-colored heads.
Also, there is a notable size difference. Sweat bees are much larger than hoverflies and have dark eyes.
What They Eat
Hoverflies are one of the most active hunters of aphids. Having a few hoverflies in your yard will help to sweep out all aphid colonies and eggs.
They are also excellent pollinators and can be seen hovering around bright flowers consuming pollens and nectar.
Hoverflies and sweat bees are fond of the salts found in sweat. However, the sweat bees are less attracted to the saline taste than the hoverflies.
They only chase sweat when it is nearby.
Wasp and sweat bee stings can be painful to deal with, and this is why people are scared of them. However, not all sweat bees can sting.
Only female sweat bees have a small stinger and can release some venom while dropping in on humans or pets.
The hoverflies are entirely harmless. These insects do not possess a stinger and are surprisingly non-aggressive.
The only concerning factor is their habit of swarming around sweaty bodies.
Hoverflies are solitary insects, and they prefer to live and nest alone. In rare cases, they swarm in numbers during the foraging sessions.
Sweat bees and wasps are mixed cases; Some species are solitary, where the female bees construct their individual underground nests.
The others live in colonies where they serve different roles of soldiers, workers, queens, and more
Number of Wings
Flower flies are from the fly family, which is why they have a single pair of wings. Using these wings, they can easily hover around different types of plants.
Sweat bees and wasps have two or more pairs of translucent wings and can not stay suspended in the air like hoverflies.
In case you spot an insect with bright yellow and black lines hovering near flowers, it is a hoverfly.
Do not be afraid of them, as they are harmless and won’t sting.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can a hoverfly sting you?
Hoverflies don’t have a stinger which means they are entirely harmless to humans. Some people might run away from them due to their bee-like appearance.
These insects will only trouble you by buzzing around your sweaty bodies as you lick the salty water.
Are sweat bees actual flies?
Sweat bees are not flies. Like the bee family members, they, too, have two pairs of wings.
These insects have metallic-colored heads and are comparatively bigger than most common flies.
The female sweat bees have a stinger and will deliver
Do sweat bees sting or bite you?
Not all species of sweat bees are harmful to humans. The male bees do not possess any stinger and are entirely harmless.
However, female bees have a small stinger and can deliver painful injuries. They are highly attracted to sweaty bodies.
Therefore try to be sweat-free around these insects.
Why do hoverflies look like wasps?
The appearance and behavior mimicking the ability of hoverflies to look like wasps is an excellent hack to stay safe from predators.
Potential predators like lizards and birds usually refrain from attacking sting insects as there is a danger of getting stung.
Plus, the bright colors on the body make them look unappealing to the hunters.
Isn’t it interesting how mimicking a few stinging insects can keep the hoverflies safe from predators?
Hoverflies copying bees and wasps is an excellent example of Batesian mimicry.
After reading this article, we hope you will be able to identify a hoverfly in a group of bees and wasps. Remember to look for the smaller one that hovers around flowers.
Thank you for taking the time to read the piece.
Now that you know the differences between these three insects, can you tell which is which from a bunch of pictures?
Test your knowledge out on some of the reader emails that have come to us over the years, and let us know the results in the comments!
No prizes for guessing the right answers, though.
Letter 1 – Flower Fly
San Diego’s Mimic Bee?
For some reason, that past couple of months, I’ve been noticing different types of bugs in my back yard. Search the web and here I found, hands-down, the best bug site ever. Took a picture of this Fly? It looks like a bee except for a single pair of wings, the eyes (the eyes scare me), and there are no pollen around the legs. If anything, here is a picture. It’s not the best picture compared to the other photographers. Hope you like it. Keep up the good work.
My, what hypnotic eyes your Fly has. Your photo is every bit as good as the images currently on our site. It just required a bit of cropping. We thought this might be a species of Horse Fly, but Eric Eaton set us straight: “Actually, it isn’t a horse fly, but some kind of flower fly, family Syrphidae. So, not only will it not bite, it is a valuable pollinator of flowers, too! This one looks to be male, with eyes that meet at the top of its head. I think Bugguide has some identified images under the Eristalini tribe of the Syrphidae. Eric”
Letter 2 – Beelike Hover Fly
Fuzzy yellow bum…
I just sent you some pictures of a Wool Carder Bee that I found in my backyard – I’d identified him through your site but hoped that you might like his glamour shots. This time I’m hoping you can help me identify this guy – I’ve tried looking for info myself but haven’t had any luck. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you’ll be able to give me something to call him/her other than "Little Yellow Bum". Thanks,
Hi again SJ,
Thanks for another astounding photo. This is a Beelike Hover Fly, probably in the genus Mallota if we have correctly matched the images on BugGuide. We will see if Eric Eaton can verify this or take it to the species level.
Correction (09/20/2007) Forwarded through Eric Eaton
I have a second question, how to get in contact with the people from “Whats that bug”? So maybe you can email the people and give them the answer to their question. Also further down they have … a suspected “Mallota” which is a Merodon equestris. Cheers
Letter 3 – Flower Fly
Bee or Fly
During a recent visit to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum in Superior Arizona my wife took this photo of a flying insect that was on a ‘Butterfly Bush’. Is this creature a fly or a bee.
Jim and Daniele BOLLER
Hi Jim and Daniele,
We contacted Eric Eaton for assistance on your fly identification. Here is his response: “he fly is a flower fly (family Syrphidae), in the genus Copestylum (formerly part of Volucella). They are common on desert broom (Baccharis) flowers at this time of year (well, a little late, actually, but late October, early November).”
Letter 4 – Flower Fly
What’s This Bug?
I sent you pictures already but I decided to send them “cropped” because I realized the last ones were really huge! Please tell me what bug this is. I can’t find anything like it online.
Flower Fly Thanks
Hi hi. I found the flower fly on your website. I had been looking under "bees" and been unable to find it. Thanks for your informative site and sorry for bothering you.
Your photo was on our computer screen when we needed to shut down, and we have just spent an inordinate amount of time trying to relocate your image in the perplexing labyrinth that is our email account. The image was so beautiful, we have obsessed on relocating it. We are piecing together your letters so we can post this beautiful Syrphid Fly or Flower Fly, Eristalinus taeniops.
Letter 5 – Flower Fly
Is this a bee, a wasp, or a fly?
I thought this picture was of a "sweat" bee type bee. Someone writing on my blog suggested it’s a wasp. I tried checking it out and realized I’m not sure at all — looking at the waist, I don’t think it’s a wasp and the eyes make me wonder if it’s some sort of bee-mimicking fly. There’s no ruler, but as you can see in comparison to the bee balm, it’s a tiny whatever. Thank you.
This is a Flower Fly or Hover Fly in the family Syrphidae. They are also called Syrphid Flies. Many species in the family do mimic bees and wasps, so your confusion is understandable. The adult flies do not sting or bite and are important as pollinators. The larvae, according to BugGuide, occupy a variety of habitats: “Larvae may feed on decaying vegetation, aquatic detritus, or wet wood, others are predators, especially of aphids. Some larvae are myrmecophiles , i.e., live in ant nests, and a few are associated with wasps. A few attack living plants, especially bulbs of forbs. Larvae that live in water with much decaying organic matter have a long anal breathing tube, and are called ‘rat-tailed maggots’.” The species with predatory larvae are quite important in gardens for aphid control.
Letter 6 – Flower Fly
Flower Fly? I found this fly on a cassia in my yard this evening. The closest thing I found in the archives was a flower fly. Thanks again Tad Swackhammer Cutler Bay, FL Hi Tad, Your are correct. This is a Syrphid Fly or Flower Fly. The species is Palpada vinetorum and is is well represented on BugGuide. Since our new site migration, we have been spending our free time trying to organize our archives a bit. We started with beetles, the biggest chunk of posts, and we are trying to sub-categorize. At some point, we will get to the flies as well.
Letter 7 – Flower Fly
Fly mimicking a wasp or a real wasp? Location: Fairfield, Maine USA August 13, 2010 3:18 pm Dear Bugman, I first thought this was some sort of Paper Wasp, but looking at the pictures I think it may be some sort of fly. It has interesting eyes with patterns in them…Can you identify this one? Thank you, James R Hi again James, This is a Flower Fly or Hover Fly in the family Syrphidae. We are confident that based on images posted to BugGuide, we have identified it as Spilomyia sayi. We know that in the past, we misidentified one of your photos as a Syrphid Fly when it was a Thick Headed Fly, but this time we are relatively certain we are correct. Hi Daniel, Thanks a lot! That one sure had me fooled! James
Letter 8 – Flower Fly
Here’s yet another fly Location: Hawthorne, California October 7, 2010 6:13 pm Can you help identify this little guy? Signature: Thanks, Anna Hi Anna, It is nice to see your collection of Flower Fly images in the family Syrphidae growing in our archives. We are late to work and must feed the chickens and fish before leaving, so we haven’t the time to identify this Flower Fly at the moment, not to even read your second email, but we hope to be able to give them more attention this weekend.
Letter 9 – Flower Fly
Toxomerus geminatus Location: Toledo, OH May 8, 2011 1:40 pm Hello! Just gettin’ in to bug season here in Ohio, and identifying this little beauty took me quite a while. I was just convinced he was a bee! I’m pretty sure he’s Toxomerus geminatus, but could possibly be Toxomerus marginatus. I just don’t have the eye to tell yet. Tiny little guy! Signature: Katy Dear Katy, We believe that your identification of this Flower Fly in the family Syrphidae as Toxomeris geminatus is correct. We are linking to the BugGuide page for additional reference.
Letter 10 – Blue Flower Fly
Killington ”Bluejacket” Location: Killington, Vermont August 1, 2011 2:00 pm What’s this ”bluejacket” (instead of a Yellowjacket)? I’ve seen it twice on Killington Mountain, Killington, Vermont – once 8/16/09 (photo enclosed)& once 7/29/2011. The recent sighting was at about 2500 feet above sea level, on the ”Header” ski trail under the Ramshead Express Quad. This trail faces approximately southeast, I think. The hour was approximately 3 pm EDT, & the area where I saw the insect was fully sunlit & very hot – ~ 80 degrees F. Both times the insect appears to have been feeding on what I think isLiatris Borealis (Northern Blazing Star). Not a great picture, but I hope you can help! Signature: Peggy Richardson Hi Peggy, This is a Flower Fly or Hover Fly in the family Syrphidae. We have tried in the past to identify a blue Flower Fly to no avail. We will continue to research its species identity. Update: We found this newly posted image on BugGuide of Didea alneti from Canada that matches your Flower Fly quite nicely. Yes, it certainly looks similar. This is great, thanks. I’ve been poking around looking for pix & info. & I don’t yet find any other sightings in Vermont. The link you sent me was reporting from Alberta, Canada. I found reports from the UK, from Austria/Tyrol, & Sweden. Here’s a Danish site with a great photo gallery of this species: http://www.fugleognatur.dk/wildaboutdenmark/speciesintro.asp?ID=5338 http://www.globalspecies.org/ntaxa/490251 <- This site lists the distribution as “Alaska to Labrador, s. to Colorado & N.S.” so it’s exciting to think I may be the 1st to report it in VT. Not surprising that it would be up on a mountain.
Letter 11 – Flower Fly
Daniel – New Fly Location: Hawthorne, CA August 20, 2011 1:29 pm Hi, Here’s another one of the many different flies that are attracted to the Eryngium tripartitum we planted this spring (the blooms smell a lot like cat poop). Can you identify it? Signature: Thanks, Anna Carreon Hi Again Anna, We are nearly certain this is a Flower Fly or Hover Fly in the family Syrphidae, however, we were unable to locate a match on BugGuide late last night. We hope to be able to identify the species for you before too long.
Letter 12 – Flower Fly
Daniel – What’s This Fly? Location: Hawthorne, CA August 21, 2011 8:21 pm Hello, I think I’m done taking pictures for the day, but here is a fly that is new to me. I can’t remember the name of the succulent whose tiny bloom it was feeding on, but have attached a picture of it. Thanks for everything! Signature: Anna Carreon Hi Anna, Though it doesn’t resemble your other Flower Fly that we recently posted, this is also a Flower Fly in the family Syrphidae. You will see by browsing through the images on BugGuide that this is a very diverse family. Thanks very much. I do realize that this is a very diverse family. I did get a little more excited than normal about this particular fly because it’s so unlike most flies I’ve seen. Anna Ed. NOte: August 23, 2011 We believe we have correctly identified this Flower Fly as Pseudodoros clavatus based on photos posted to BugGuide. According to BugGuide: “Larvae feed on aphids.”
Letter 13 – Flower Fly
Fly which looks like a wasp Location: Western NY August 30, 2011 8:33 pm Hi bugman! Long time no visit. Thanks for the last ID about a year ago or more. I was out carousing the fields of goldenrod and was checking out all of the bee varieties when I noticed this little guy wasn’t a wasp/bee at all, but pretty close! Curious as I could not find this in the fly section. There are some other little bees that did not like my camera that I was trying to catch for an ID, but I had no luck. Almost looks like a honeybee caring sacks of pollen but definitely not as they are smaller. Hopefully next time. Signature: Mark W Dear Mark, It was very astute of you to recognize that this very effective wasp mimic is actually a fly. It is a member of the family Syrphidae, and the members of the family are often called Flower Flies or Hover Flies. Your individual is in the genus Spilomyia, and the angle of your photograph makes it impossible to make out the abdominal markings. We cannot be certain of the species, but we believe this is most likely Spilomyia sayi. You can compare your photo to the images posted to BugGuide.
Letter 14 – Flower Fly
Weird Bug Location: Boise, Idaho February 14, 2012 10:14 pm Dear Bug Man, I came across a bug Ive never seen before. I was sitting at my desk when heard a buzzing noise and saw what I thought was a fly. Its currently February in boise Idaho and is weird to see any flying insects this time of weather. I grabbed my fly swatter and tapped the little guy. When I went to dispose of him, he looked weird and Ive never seen his type of bug before. Hes got a flat (pretty sure not from the fly swatter)striped body with wings and a big head. He almost looks like a bee but the markings on his back threw me off. And if he is a bee, why is he around so early? I would very much apperciate if you could identify him. Thank you! Signature: Rose Orona Dear Rose, This is a Fly in the family Syrphidae, and many members of the family mimic bees for protection since the flies themselves do not sting nor bite. Flies in the family Syrphidae are commonly called Flower Flies or Hover Flies and they are beneficial insects that pollinate flowers. The larval Flower Flies are also beneficial insects and many species are predators that feed upon Aphids. The real mystery is “Why did this Flower Fly appear in your home in February in Idaho?” and we don’t have an answer to that. Since they are beneficial, there is no need to swat Flower Flies, and we are tagging your letter as Unnecessary Carnage. We hope this does not give you a stigma, because we have no intention of chastising you, but we would like to educate you so that no further incidents occur.
Letter 15 – Flower Fly
Beautiful bee but what is it? Location: Tampa, Florida March 9, 2012 6:21 pm This little critter just landed right next to me. Never seen any kind of bee that looked like this. Help 🙂 Signature: Lisa Dear Lisa, Many species of Flower Flies or Hover Flies in the family Syrphidae mimic bees and wasps for protection. We believe we have correctly identified your Flower Fly as Palpada albifrons based on photos that are posted to BugGuide.
Letter 16 – Drawing of a Flower Fly: Eristalinus taeniops
Subject: need help identification, Location: Saugus, California, August 12, 2012 6:34 pm Dear ______, I found this weird insect on the kitchen cabinet today, It looked like a bee but also look like a fly. It is about half an inch long and about a size of a bee. It had the yellow and black stripes on it like a bee, but doesn’t have that one fuzzy abdomen or fuzz at all like a honey bee or a bumble bee. It also had no antennas, but what really got me is the eyes were on top of its head close together like they were touching, and they were big and round like balls, but they had tons of small yellow stripes. I wasn’t sure if I should look under bee or fly for identifying it, Unfortunately it got away so I couldn’t get a picture but I used photoshop and drew the best i can of it. Please respond if you can, Signature: kelsey Hi kelsey, We love your drawing. We believe that based on your interpretive drawing, your excellent description and your location that you discovered a Flower Fly or Hover Fly in the family Syrphidae, a family that includes many member that mimic bees and wasps. Furthermore, we are quite confident that it is Eristalinus taeniops, a species with no common name. According to BugGuide, it is: ” A widespread Old World species introduced to California.”
Letter 17 – Flower Fly
Subject: Is this a bee, a wasp, or what? Location: Southcentral Louisiana October 15, 2012 6:57 pm Hello, this little guy invaded my house when I left the back door open. He has wings like a wasp, a body like a bee, and a large head with short antennae. I have no idea what he is and was hoping you would know. Signature: Celina Hi Celina, We are going to have to go with “or what” since this is a Flower Fly in the family Syrphidae. Many Flower Flies are excellent mimics that are frequently mistaken for Bees or Wasps. See BugGuide for more information on the family Syrphidae.
Letter 18 – Flower Fly
Subject: Bee or Fly? Location: San Diego, California April 17, 2013 4:43 pm This bug was sipping nectar from a Tidy tips flower. The markings on the body seem distinctive. Is it a bee or a fly or something else? Signature: Don Rideout Dear Don, This is a Flower Fly or Hover Fly in the family Syrphidae. Many members of this family resemble bees and wasps.
Letter 19 – Flower Fly
Subject: wtb Location: san marcos tx September 21, 2013 8:41 am cant find anything like this in my books. hanging out by crepe myrtles. very small, half inch or less. Signature: scott Hi Scott, This is a Flower Fly or Hover Fly in the family Syrphidae. We believe we have correctly identified it as Ocyptamus fascipennis thanks to images posted to BugGuide. According to BugGuide: “larvae prey on scale insects” which makes it a very beneficial insect in the garden.
Letter 20 – Flower Fly
Subject: What is this bug Location: hyderabad [India] March 13, 2014 1:43 am looks like a bee but not sure… Thus this question Signature: regards This is one of the Flower Flies or Hover Flies in the family Syrphidae, and many members of the family mimic bees and wasps. Syrphid Flies are perfectly harmless, but they gain protection through mimicry of stinging insects.
Letter 21 – Flower Fly
Subject: Tiny Bee With A Big Head Location: Silver Lake (Los Angeles) February 23, 2015 9:54 pm Hi Daniel, This morning, I was shooting a photo of wild radish on the Red Car Property in Silver Lake, above the historic viaduct footings. While editing, I noticed I captured one frame of this tiny bee with a very strangely shaped, almost mod head. Sorry I couldn’t get a better shot – it was with my phone. I’ve often caught the incidental bug in close-ups, but this is a new one for me. http://redcarproperty.blogspot.com/ Signature: Diane EHi Diane, This is a Flower Fly or Hover Fly in the family Syrphidae. Many members of the family mimic bees or wasps as it is beneficial for harmless insects to be mistaken for stinging insects. Is there any progress on the preservation attempts of the Red Car Property? Cool. Thought it was weird. TPL still has exclusive option on the property. It’s wonderful to walk right now.
Letter 22 – Flower Fly
Subject: Beautiful Bug Location: Gettysburg, PA September 15, 2015 6:36 am Hello, This is a bug that flies and seemed to like the stems of grasses and wildflowers at Gettysburg National Military Park. I haven’t been able to find it anywhere. I thought it was a beetle, but someone said it’s a fly that mimics a beetle. Please help. Signature: Clueless but Hopeful Dear Clueless bug Hopeful, We have identified your beautiful Flower Fly or Hover Fly from the family Syrphidae as Eristalinus aeneus thanks to this image on BugGuide. It really does have distinctive eyes and the space between the eyes indicates your individual is a female. According to BugGuide: “Native to Europe, adventive in NA and now widespread in e. NA (ON-FL)” and “In Europe, larvae often found associated with decaying seaweed.”
Letter 23 – Flower Fly
Subject: What is this Location: Northern ca April 16, 2016 1:21 pm Hey Mr Bugman What the heck is this…..all of a Sudden they are all over our garden. Thanks Signature: Dennis Dear Dennis, This Flower Fly or Hover Fly in the family Syrphidae is a beneficial insect. The Syrphid Fly larvae feed on Aphids and other agricultural and ornamental plant pests, and the adults are beneficial pollinators. Many adult Flower Flies mimic stinging bees and wasps, though they are themselves quite harmless as they neither sting nor bite. We will attempt to identify your Flower Fly by species, but BugGuide has an enormous archive to sift through.
Letter 24 – Flower Fly
Subject: What is this little guy? Geographic location of the bug: Marysville, WA Date: 12/13/2018 Time: 07:23 AM EDT Your letter to the bugman: I saw this guy hanging out around my pineapple mint last July. Do you know what it is? It’s surprisingly beautiful whatever it is! How you want your letter signed: Melissa C. Dear Melissa, This is a Flower Fly or Hover Fly in the family Syrphidae, but we are uncertain of the species. Many members of this family are effective mimics of stinging wasps and bees, so the otherwise harmless Flower Flies benefit from this protective mimicry.