Hoverflies by Michael Blencowe for Sussex Wildlife Trust
Everyone loves bees, don’t they? Knowing that our bees are in decline has
prompted protests and petitions and highlighted the important service these
buzzing pollinators provide to our planet. Without them our crops and
ecosystems would collapse. Yet many other pollinators that provide the same
service don’t get the same level of public support. So today I’m waving my flag
for the hoverflies.
For some reason, they’re not as loveable as bees. Perhaps it’s because most of
the time people mistake them for wasps. This isn’t totally our fault because
that’s exactly what the hoverflies want you to think. The 283 species of hoverfly
in the UK come in many shapes, colours and sizes but most of them sport
yellow and black stripes, making them easily confused for wasps, bees, hornets
and bumblebees. It’s a strategy called Batesian mimicry and was first proposed
by Leicestershire lepidopterist Henry Bates in 1861. Hoverflies are harmless.
They don’t sting and can’t bite but they have discovered you don’t actually have
to be dangerous to deter predators – you just have to look like something that’s
Yet their devious mimicry isn’t the most incredible thing about them. Their
wings are the things. Hoverflies (like all flies) have just two wings (half as
many wings as bees and wasps). Whereas other flies keep their wings straight,
hoverflies incline theirs to create an angled downward stroke at a remarkable
rate of 120 beats per second. This allows hoverflies to fly to a most amazing
place: nowhere. Hoverflies have become the motionless masters of mid-air.
It’s not all sitting around in the sky though. During their few days of life,
hoverflies fight, fornicate and feed and while busy collecting energy-giving
nectar and protein-rich pollen they inadvertently provide that vital pollination
service to our flowers and crops. And hoverflies have earned the title of ‘The
Gardeners Friend’ because about 40% of them have a larval stage which is
basically a tiny crawling stomach that roams around your flowerbed eating
aphids. Pollination, pest control – next thing you know these beneficial little
insects will be mowing the front lawn for us too.
So why not thank these friendly flies by planting some of their favourite flowers
in your garden – parsley, fennel, borage, hebe, sedum and alliums – and consider
putting in a pond no matter how small. Do your bit for the pollinators and
they’ll keep the world working for us.
(Sussex Wildlife Trust is an independent charity caring for wildlife and habitats
throughout Sussex. Founded in 1961, we have worked with local people for over
half a century to make Sussex richer in wildlife.
We rely on the support of our members to help protect our rich natural heritage.
Please consider supporting our work. As a member you will be
invited to our regular wildlife walks and also enjoy free events, discounts on
wildlife courses, Wildlife magazine and our Sussex guide book, Discovering
Wildlife. It’s easy to join online at sussexwildlifetrust.org.uk/join)