To Bee or Not to Bee

Sep 16, 2008

To bee or not to bee.

Not to bee.

The flying insect hovering over the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden,  UC Davis Arboretum, looked like a honey bee or wasp at first glance. It wasn't. It was a hover fly or syphrid fly from the order Diptera (Greek for "two wings") and family Syrphidae.

It's commonly known as a hover fly, drone fly,  flower fly, syrphid fly or  "syrphid," says Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at UC Davis who researches native pollinators from his headquarters in the Harry H. Laidlaw Jr. Honey Bee Research Facility on Bee Biology Road.

"These are good honey-bee mimics," he said, "but note the short stubby antennae and bulging face." Also note the large eyes! (Reminiscent of the eyes of the male honey bee, the drone).

The hover fly moves like a helicopter, holding perfectly still for a moment or two, and then darting upward, downward and backward in flight.


Unlike bees and wasps, syrphids have two wings, not four. Also a syrphid-notable:  black and yellow stripes on their abdomen. The coloring helps fool would-be predators.  

In their larval stages, syrphids dine on plant-sucking pests like tasty aphids, thrips, mealybugs and scales, or munch on decaying matter in the soil or in ponds and streams.


They're the good guys. And girls.


These beneficial insects are like the ladybird beetles (aka ladybugs) and lacewings of the garden. In their larval stages, they prey on pests, and in their adult stages, they pollinate flowers.


Prey 'n pollinate,  that's what they do best.

And hover.


By Kathy Keatley Garvey
Author - Communications specialist

Attached Images:

Like a hovering helicopter, the hover fly lingers over flowers in the Ruth Risdon Storer Garden, UC Davis Arboretum. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)


The hover fly, from the syrphid family, works the flowers in the Storer Garden, part of the UC Davis Arboretum. The syphrids, in their larval stage, eat plant-sucking pests or decaying matter, and in their adult stage, they pollinate flowers as they go after the  nectar and pollen. (Photo by Kathy Keatley Garvey)

Gathering nectar