Hover flies seem to be in fantastic numbers here this season. Perhaps the mixed spring weather has delayed the appearance of other species. Or maybe the good blooms so far have helped them thrive. There are literally hundreds in my garden and during recent walks on Nail Can Hill I have seen them rising almost like a cloud from the equally numerous wildflowers in many places. Hover flies are often mistakenly assumed to be native bees.
Do you know the ones I mean? They are 'hover' by name and they hover by nature - often appearing to be suspended mid-air, typically above a flower, or when disturbed. They'll dart quickly forward or sideways and then resume hovering. There are a variety of species of hover flies, though I think the ones I'm seeing are the common hover fly. They vary a bit in size, though are distinctly smaller than honeybees (7mm to 20mm long), with a slim yellow body and black markings. They are flies, but are thought to be mimicking the look of bees or wasps. It also means they don't sting!
There are a few key things to look for when identifying hoverflies.
- They don't appear to be hairy when viewed with the naked eye (where both honeybees and many native bees often do).
- They will feed on pollen and nectar from a flower, but do not actively collect pollen on their legs or abdomen, as many bees do. Though sometimes they do end up with a dusting, inadvertently.
- Their antennae are shorter than those of bees and you might not notice them at all.
- They have the typical fly characteristic of often having their wings 'out' when resting on a flower, where a bee will usually rest its wings along its back. Though they both mix it up a bit, so there are regular exceptions to that generalisation. In fact, flies only have one set of wings, where bees have two ... but if you can tell the difference as they buzz by, you're doing a lot better than me.
- And hover flies have those classic, 'fly eyes'. I think they look like a sci-fi feature. And red in color, in the species I see (above).
I adore and am fascinated by native bees, however I certainly recognise the vital role that hover flies, and many other pollinators, play in our systems. So while some folks are disappointed when I suggest what they've seen is a hover fly, there are many reasons we should all be thrilled and grateful for the presence of hover flies.
A quick overview includes that hover flies:
- Include species native to Australia (although not all are);
- Are pollinators (just like European honeybees and Australian native bees, and many other species; including pollination of many of our food crops and those we feed to livestock);
- The larvae of hover flies are also partial to munching on sap-sucking insects … to [cheekily] extrapolate a renowned Bill Mollison quote … you don't have an aphid problem, you have a deficiency of hover fly larvae! Yep, hover flies can help control other critters that are causing crop or garden damage;
- And, being less temperature sensitive than most native bees and many other pollinators, hover flies are active pretty much year-around in our area, albeit not in quite the peak numbers we're seeing currently. This means they are on the job for pollinating and pest control even when native bees and many other species are not.
I reckon say "g'day and thanks" to a hover fly today … and locally this spring, you won't have to look far to find them.