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"A Nature Observer′s Scrapbook"


Episyrphus balteatus Episyrphus balteatus group

Marmalade fly

Episyrphus balteatus

Sometimes known as the Marmalade Fly, this is a very common hoverfly throughout Europe and is considered to be a possible migrant as it is found in large numbers in coastal areas.

Very much a friend to the gardener, in a larva's 14 day development period it is credited with consuming several hundred aphids. A newly hatched maggot-like larva, blind, white and almost transparent, is quite capable of of tackling an aphid much larger than itself.

The adult fly satisfies itself with nectar as it busies itself with pollination. Favoured wild plants appear to be Cow Parsley and Hogweed - although the pictured dandelion flower attracted a lot of attention, too.

Some very good high definition images are to be found by doing a search at

02.06.2003On Cow Parsley by roadside ditch.

Helophilus pendulus male Helophilus pendulus female Helophilus pendulus female
side view


Helophilus pendulus

Earns its common name because it is reputed not to appear until the sun is shining brightly.

There are several Helophilus species all exhibiting the distinctive longitudinal stripes on the thorax.

H. pendulus is said to be 'common' but is not a regular visitor to my garden. All Helophilus species favour ponds and muddy water. Perhaps my pond is too clean for them but there is a muddy ditch running down the side of the garden. Or, maybe the sun just does not shine brightly enough on me!

The male in the upper image was rubbing its front feet together prior to grooming and gives the impression that it might have only four legs and two pairs of antennae! The female in the middle image has slightly different markings and appears broader across the abdomen. And the side view of the female is included because the leg markings are a significant species identification feature.

The aquatic larvae, like those of the Eristalis hoverflies, are 'rat-tailed' maggots, and are to be found in stagnant water from May to November.

23.08.2005 Nectar sipping from Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) in bright sunshine.
01.10.2005 Female found sheltering from a blustery wind on the lea side of an Elder tree.

Syrphus ribesii

Hoverfly -

Syrphus ribesii

A common UK hoverfly flying from April through to November.

And, in its larval state, is an aphid eater extraordinaire, consuming hundreds in its two week larval state.

15.08.2004On Sedum spectabile in back garden.
28.05.2015Attracted to light at night.

Eupeodes luniger

Hoverfly -

Eupeodes luniger

At first sight, easily confused with the previous species (and others! I originally thought this to be Scaeva pyrastri until I was corrected.).

E. luniger has gently hook shaped yellow markings with a very distinct gap down the centre of the abdomen. The markings also fail to reach the outside edge of the abdomen.

This species is to be found from Nth America, through Europe, Western Asia and Nth Africa.

31.07.2004On Salix caprea pendula in back garden.
18.09.2005Resting on Dogwood in back garden.

Eristalis pertinax Eristalis Pertinax

A Drone Fly

Eristalis pertinax

Known commonly known as Drone Flies because of their striking resemblance to honey bee drones.

There are two very similar species of Eristalis, E. pertinax and E. tenax. The species shown on the right is the former, recognised by the bi-coloured tibias of its hind legs. The hind legs of E. tenax are uniformly dark.

The thin white bands between the abdominal segments, seen in the upper image, are not a regular feature and are caused by flexing of the body. The same species in the lower image is seen in a more normal, relaxed position.

They are a common and frequent garden visitor and are on the wing from March through to November.

The female will lay her eggs in damp manure heaps or in sodden vegetation close to stagnant water. In water, the grey larvae swim freely and can extend their telescopic breathing tube a staggering 100mm or more to the water surface, earning them the name of 'rat-tailed maggots'.

Eristalis Pertinax

The larva in the image, found in a still overflow pool by a garden pond, is presumed to be that of an E. pertinax larva. Another Eristalis species, E. tenax (see below) also produces the same type of larva.

The image of the larva was taken within the confines of a shallow dish and it is possible to see from the shadow of the tail (in the bottom lefthand corner) that the tip has been raised to the surface, causing a dimple in the surface tension of the water.

Movement through the water is achieved by whip-like action of the tail but, for movement amongst the mud and sludge, it is equipped with short stubby caterpillar-like legs.

02.07.2004On Sedum spectabile in back garden.
21.04.2005 At rest on South facing cupressus hedge.
26.09.2005 Basking in full sun on Salix caprea.
03.08.2009 Rat-tailed maggot larvae found in still water pool.

Eristalis tenax, a Drone Fly

A Drone Fly

Eristalis tenax

Eristalis tenax is regarded as a common hoverfly throughout the UK, reputed to be 'widespread and abundant'.
...... I've waited seven years before seeing one in my garden! And then it turned up at the end of November and sat motionless on a window for four hours ! But its appearance late in the year is not unusual as it hibernates through the winter as an adult.

It has the same common name and is similar in shape and size to Eristalis pertinax (above) with the same wing venation but has the following distinctive identification features.

Eristalis tenax, a Drone Fly Eristalis tenax, a Drone Fly

The most prominent features are the coloration of the legs. The legs of this species, E. tenax, are generally much darker than those of E. pertinax which has a prominent pale band on the hind legs and distinctly paler mid and forelegs. And E. tenax has a broad dark facial stripe between the eyes. It's body colouring can be somewhat variable. These images are of the darker form but dull orange abdominal markings similar to E. pertinax are often seen. Indeed a second specimen found in February 2012 had dull orange marks on the outside edges of abdominal segments 1 and 2.

The aquatic larva, a 'rat-tailed maggot', is similar to that of E. pertinax (as described above).

30.11.2011 Found on an outside window.
17.02.2012 Found on the inside of an unheated garage window.

Eristalis Arbustorum


Eristalis Arbustorum
   .... E. nemorum?

There are a surprising number of hoverfly species and some can look very similar to each other, making positive identification something of a test even for experts. This one appears to be E. arbustorum - but, it might just be E. nemorum.

The prominent 'hourglass' marking on the abdomen would tend to indicate that this is a male. The markings on the females may not be so distinct.

The flies are attracted to the nectar of flowering Cow parsley, Hogweed, Creeping thistle and Knapweed - which give it quite a prolonged season. And in the garden I have seen it on Sedum spectabile and Potentilla.

But, for all that, it is not a common species in my area and I can claim to have seen solitary specimens on no more than six occasions in 2005.

09.09.2005 On Potentilla in back garden and at rest in full sun on Dogwood.

Merodon equestris pupa, top and bottom views Merodon equestris, dorsal view Merodon equestris, lateral view

Large Narcissus Fly

Merodon equestris

Finding the pupa just below the surface of the soil was a surprise. Given its colour and being covered in crumbs of soil it might easily have been cast aside as just a pebble or compacted soil - but for those two little projecting 'horns'. It was definitely something 'odd'. The image shows the upper and underneath surfaces.

The area that it was found in had been extensively used by mining bees the previous year and I assumed that it might be the pupa of a bee predator but, which one? I took the pupa 'into care' and placed it in a well ventilated container on damp moss - and waited.

Eventually, after five weeks, it hatched and had all the appearance of being a bee but for the absence of typical bee antennae. The very short antennae pointed to it being a 'bee mimic' hoverfly - of which there are several. It normally carried its wings closely folded making it difficult to see any wing vein pattern but I was able to get a good image of an outstretched wing when it started preening itself.

The wing vein characteristics narrowed the species options down to the Eristalini group and eventually to Merodon equestris in particular. Further identifying features were the all black legs and a tiny triangular projection on the hind femur close to the tibia joint (as seen in the lower image) that does not occur in other bumblebee mimics.

The adult fly only survives for a short while - between 5 and 24 days, and lays its eggs low down on the leaves of daffodil, narcissus and bluebell plants. On hatching the larvae make their way down into the bulb where they will feed for something like 300 days before re-emerging to pupate in the soil.

17.04.2008 Pupa found just below soil level.
24.05.2008 Adult emerged and released.

Rhingia campestris Rhingia campestris

Hoverfly -

Rhingia campestris

Before I pinned a 'proper' name on this one, I had it labelled as the 'Duck-billed platy-fly'.

The prominent 'snout' forms a protective shield for a long black tongue which is extended (in Bumblebee fashion) to seek out nectar from long tubed flowers - such as White Dead-nettle.

It appears to favour cow pastures as its breeding ground, laying its eggs on plants overhanging cow pats. On hatching, the larvae drop to the dung and burrow to the moist part at the bottom. They feed quite rapidly before the dung dries out, and drop to the grass where they pupate.

It is on the wing from April to November - which roughly equates to the length of time that the favoured White Dead-nettle can be found in bloom in these parts.

It was a chance sighting of the fly on the more open flowers of garden Honesty that revealed the long black tongue in action.

02.07.2004On White Dead-nettles in roadside ditch.
21.04.2005On White Dead-nettles in roadside ditch.
09.05.2005On garden Honesty.
25.04.2009First sightings of 2009. Several around garden pond.

Sphaerophoria scripta female Sphaerophoria scripta male

Hoverfly -

Sphaerophoria scripta

I would classify these hoverflies as 'unobtrusive'. They are not given to darting about, drawing attention to themselves, but go about their business in a quiet, almost shy manner.

That said, they are not shy when it comes to reproduction. It has been suggested that, given the right environmental conditions (temperature, humidity and food supply), a complete generation can develop from egg to egg laying adult in as little as 16 days. And it is possible for as many as 9 generations a year to appear.

The upper image is of a female. They tend to present themselves in a constant recognisable form.

The lower image is of a male. These can be more variable in colouration and markings but are characterised by their long slim parallel abdomen which will extend beyond folded wing tips.

31.08.2004On Potentilla and Thyme in front garden.

Volucella bombylans Volucella bombylans, female

Hoverfly -

Volucella bombylans

Now this one posed me problems.

The hoverfly in the upper image looks like V. bombylans - but it confused me by behaving like V. inflata - which, I believe, lays its eggs in damp, wet places.

This one spent several leisurely minutes moving over the 'cuckoo spit' on the Fleabane, looking for all the world as though it was ovipositing (which, in retrospect, was highly unlikely since the close spaced eyes suggests that it was a male!). The lower image is that of a female, with widely spaced eyes.

Volucella bombylans, is reputed to favour the dry nests of bees and social wasps for its larvae. Within the bee or wasp nest, the larvae clean up the detrius and waste material in the nest and are rewarded (?) by being allowed to predate on the odd bee or wasp larva!

In order to get away with this behaviour, the fly mimics the bumblebee.
V. bombylans var bombylans (this one) mimics the buff tailed bumblebee.
Whereas V. bombylans var plumata, with a white tail, mimics the white tailed bumblebee.

But we humans are not so easily fooled(?). The bees have four wings and the hoverflies have only two - and their wing venation is very distinctive. The deep 'V' cleft in the wingtip venation is a distinctive characteristic of the Volucella genus and the plumose (hairy) antennae is a key identification feature of this species.

15.06.2004On Fleabane in roadside ditch.
29.07.2007On garden Lythrum, 'Purple Loosestrife'.

Volucella pellucens


Volucella pellucens

This is a big hoverfly with a wing length of 10 to 15mm. It tends to favour woodland habitats.

The similarity in wing venation with the previous species, Volucella bombylans, is a generic diagnostic feature. But, note the strong amber colour of the wing base and the prominent dark mark midway down the wing.

Another distinguishing feature is that the second abdominal segment, tergite 2, is almost entirely white with just a suggestion of a dark longitudinal central division.

Like V. bombylans, it is a parasite of the nests of communal wasps. Although it may not look like a wasp it has a very convincing wasp-like buzz when in flight.

05.07.2010 Attracted to the light of a moth trap late at night.

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