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Insect week: Hoverflies

Updated: Jun 30

This week the Royal Entomological Society celebrates the small creatures that keep the world going. Supported by partner organisations throughout the UK and Europe, it is possible to get involved in insect science wherever you are. Wherever you live, it’s an opportunity to take part in insect science, get to know insects, learn from experts, and have fun.


This week, I would like to celebrate the insects that play an often-overlooked role in keeping our crops healthy by focusing on key insects in agriculture.


Today, we celebrate Hoverflies!


The sight and sound of these critters might cause you to sprint away in terror, however, if you observe them for a little while, you’ll realise that they’re not so bad. That’s right, these clever mimics have found a way to send their predators running for the hills by pretending to be wasps, but unlike their unlikable twins, these little guys are harmless (and pretty adorable when you look closely). In fact, they’re actually extremely useful.


Hoverflies are the best of both worlds between bees and wasps (you’ll have to wait until tomorrow to hear about wasps), in that hoverflies are both predators and pollinators. Specifically, the hoverfly larvae of certain species feed exclusively on aphids, thrips, and other sap-feeding bugs. Around 40% of the hoverfly species in the UK feed on aphids when they are larvae. The larvae of some other species are saprotrophs, meaning that they feed on decaying plant and animal matter, this is an important part of keeping soil healthy. Meanwhile, the adult hoverflies are also important pollinators. They are frequent visitors to many flowering plants and crops and are sometimes considered to be the second-most important group of pollinators after bees.

 

More fun facts about hoverflies:

  • Hoverflies belong to the order Diptera along with most other fly species. There are over 6000 fly species in Britain, more than 280 of which are hoverflies.

  • Hoverflies are cosmopolitan and live in almost all biomes (excluding extreme deserts, tundra and high latitudes). Some hoverfly larvae are even aquatic.

  • Species range in size from a few millimetres to 2cm.

  • All fly species, including hoverflies, have only two wings (a pair)

  • One of the major hoverfly species in the UK, the marmalade hoverfly (Episyrphus balteatus), migrates in huge numbers from Europe in the summer.

  • Predatory larvae rely on chemical senses and touch to locate their prey, not their eyes.

  • Most importantly, Hoverflies do not bite or sting!

 

Come back tomorrow to learn about another important critter!


If you are interested in learning about how you can support the survival of these important insect species please check out the resources available at: https://www.insectweek.org/


If you would like to learn more:

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