Some fun: Learning to count with hoverflies

Hoverflies (Diptera, Syrphidae) belong to a large family of flies. They are true flies, with only one pair of wings (wasps and bees have two pairs). Hovering is a speciality, with the head of the insect remaining completely still whilst in flight:


Many species are useful to the gardener, because their larvae eat pest aphids on garden plants and crops. The degree to which they contribute to pollination is in fact poorly studied, but their importance is in no doubt for carrots, onions and fruit trees.

One hoverfly on the Japanese anemone 'Honorine Jobert'

ONE hoverfly on the Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

They may be seen “nectaring” on many wild and garden flowers where they are amongst the most numerous and frequent of visitors. In Britain ~270 species are known at present, but significant species and numbers migrate like butterflies (e.g. the european Scaeva pyrastri, which is a large, black, distinctive fly with three pairs of white comma markings on the abdomen) .

Four on a common teasel flower

FOUR on a common teasel flower

One of the most common hoverflies to be seen in the garden in Britain is the Marmalade Fly, Episyrphus balteatus. Distinctive double stripes on the abdomen make it almost unmistakable.

Five on Ageratum houstonianum 'Timeless Mixed'

FIVE Marmalade hoverflies on Ageratum houstonianum ‘Timeless Mixed’

In 1976 a National Recording Scheme was launched for Great Britain to collate information about their ecology and distribution.

Eight on Papaver rhoeas 'Shirley Poppy

EIGHT hoverflies on Papaver rhoeas ‘Shirley Poppy

And the winner is ….. Papaver somniferum, which managed to attract eleven hoverflies and one bumblebee.

ELEVEN and a bumblebee!

ELEVEN and a bumblebee!

Can you beat that?

Further information about hoverflies can be found at All about Hoverflies or the Royal Entomological Soc. website.


About Frogend_dweller

Living in the damp middle of nowhere
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14 Responses to Some fun: Learning to count with hoverflies

  1. What a fun and informative post. I shall examine hoverflies with much more interest, thank you!

  2. Silly me… 😦 … I’ve always had a kneejerk reaction that any orange-striped insect on a flower must necessarily be of the stinging variety! Next time I will stop and count the wings rather than automatically beating a hasty retreat. 🙂

  3. Chloris says:

    A great post Allison, fascinating and fantastic photos.

  4. Tina says:

    Gorgeous photos–I love to watch hoverflies in my gardens. Thanks for sharing yours.

  5. GREAT photos and an informative post. Until now I had assumed those little guys were actually tiny wasps.

  6. Robbie says:

    great post! Love all the photos. When I first noticed them my beneficial plantings many years ago, I had no idea what they were but now plant for them and look for them. Great helpers. Great shots of them!

  7. mohnfoto says:

    Hmm thanks for clarification. I recently posted some bug photos and I thought they were small wasps. I have to correct that in the morning. Thanks! Nice photos BTW!

    • Thanks and you are welcome! I usually identify bugs using an Insect ID book by Michael Chinery, which I would recommend. There is also a website called ISPOT which helps people to identify their ‘spots’ which is very friendly and helpful (run by OU).

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