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Hoverflies: Gardener’s Friends

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Wednesday 15 February 2012

Hoverflies: Gardener’s Friends

I have been trying to learn more about pollination and have been asking myself and others the question “If bees are the No 1 insect pollinators who or what are No2 ?”  The broad answer seems to be “flies” and amongst that massive and sometimes unappealing group of insects, hoverflies are possibly number one on the pollinator list.

A couple of weeks ago I knew nothing much about hoverflies, except that since looking for bees I had begun to “see” them more, to notice quite a few different kinds, appreciate their delicate beauty and admire their sometimes expert mimicry of bees and wasps. 
Now, after attending one day of the Hoverfly ID course at the Natural History Museum I understand just a little more about them and know that, with over 250 UK species, they are a huge and complex group of insects.

A hoverfly from a walk here in Grafham in July last year. I think I can now confidently say it is Episyrphus balteatus or the “marmalade hoverfly”. It is very common in the UK and not only a good pollinator but its larvae eat aphids, lots of aphids. According to the Natural History Museum  “Each larva consumes more than 200 aphids during its development”, so definitely the gardener’s friend.

The course was led by Roger Morris author of “Hoverflies of Surrey”, who jointly runs the national Hoverfly Recording Scheme with Dr Stuart Ball.If you are interested in getting to know more about hoverflies go to their website where you will find more info and also details of courses and events coming up. Roger gave us a brief outline of the different species and then it was on to identification of specimens, using “keys” and microscopes. It was my first time for both. It is not easy!

The adult hoverflies are fascinating, beautiful and ancient creatures. It is such a shame that some people think they are wasps and kill them when really they could not be more harmless. I hope to include a couple of paintings of them in this years exhibitions to try to encourage  people to appreciate them more. But it’s not quite so easy to do PR for hoverflies as it is for bees. An insect called a “fly” of any kind has a bad start and it is best not to dwell on some of their questionable choices of accommodation or that that some of the larvae are referred to as “rat tailed maggots”. Not very cuddly, is it…but, of course, what we call them is not their fault

As I am still laid up with a sprained shoulder (not to be recommended) and unable to work, I looked through some old photos and found I had taken quite a few of hoverflies which I am attempting to identify.. with mixed success. I may or may not be right!
I think this below is the beautiful bee mimic hoverfly Volucella bombylans taken Heligan in June.


and this one from later in the year at Brampton Wood in October is, I think Helophilus pendulus on Devils Bit Scabious.

 This one from Dads garden in September I think  Volucella pellucens


This one I think could be Eristalis tenax taken late in the year in November when all that was flowering by the lake was the Bristly Ox Tongue.


and another one with slightly different markings

Scaeva pyrastri  I think, from July.

and another which I can’t identify on the brambles


and as I am finishing this Sarah Raven is enthusing about hoverflies on the telly, see “Bees Butterflies and Blooms”.. BBC2.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You mentioned Dr Stuart Ball... my best friend from school is his daughter! She does not share his entomological leanings. Awesome hoverfly stuff.

15 February 2012 at 21:25  
Blogger Jane Adams said...

Yes, just watched Bees, Butterflies and Blooms. Amazed and annoyed when the "Entomologist" said "no point in bare soil" What! Where does he think some of our lovely solitary bees nest? After that I was stamping around the house and couldn't sit still until I'd ranted on their facebook page! How sad am I? Don't answer that! :-)

15 February 2012 at 21:54  
Blogger Jane Adams said...

So busy ranting again I forgot to say how wonderful your photos were! We had a hoverfly invasion from europe last summer lasting a couple of weeks (blown onto the south coast) absolutely amazing. Garden was a mass of them (mainly Episyrphus balteatus).

15 February 2012 at 21:57  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Delightful information. Hope you will continue to take us on your hoverfly learning journey.

16 February 2012 at 01:43  
Blogger Jarnie Godwin said...

Oh poor you with a bad shoulder, wishing you better soon. Hoverflies really are funny little things aren't they? I love the way they seem to move so cautiously around plants, should I land?
I have been watching Sarah raven too and am all geared up to create a small 'wilderness' in our garden.

16 February 2012 at 07:32  
Anonymous Gone Tropical said...

Great post! I love the hover flies, they let me come real close but before I can take a good picture they just 'hover' over and up a couple of inches, playing with me it seems ;-)

16 February 2012 at 14:53  
Anonymous Emily Heath said...

Nice post. I watched the BBC2 show last night too - didn't approve of the man killing the hoverflies by attracting them to water with washing up liquid though!

16 February 2012 at 22:36  
Blogger Curbstone Valley Farm said...

We encourage the Syrphid flies here in the gardens as much as we can. The first year we gardened here, our red-veined sorrel was mobbed by aphids all season long. Now we have lots of hoverfly attracting plants interspersed throughout the garden, and we haven't had a problem the last couple of years! I love them...almost as much as I love bees ;)

17 February 2012 at 14:53  
Blogger Going Native said...

I wrote an article in the March/April 2012 issue of Grit magazine about attracting pollinators to vegetable gardens. In America, we have over 4000 native bees. Honeybees are not native to the US. They were brought over from Europe. And native bees and native flowers evolved together so many of our native flowers are best pollinated by native bees due to the flower shapes and the long tongues of many of the bees. Also squash plants are best pollinated by the native bumblebee since they vibrate in the flower allowing for better pollination, something a honeybee cannot due.

17 February 2012 at 14:55  
Anonymous Mike B. said...

I love Hoverflies! I've been educating all of my neighbors- hope they listen.

27 February 2012 at 00:34  

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