Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fly that pretends to buzz like a bee

Hoverflies, as their name suggests, are well known for their habit of hovering in front of flowers. 

Many adult hoverflies feed on nectar and pollen while the larvae feed on a variety of animal and plant material. 

In some species the larvae are insectivores. These are now being used to control plant-sucking insects such as aphids which can cause widespread damage to agricultural crops.

Hoverflies are found on all continents except Antarctica. 

At least six thousand species have been identified and named of these about 30 species have been recorded in Malta but I would not be surprised if more species are discovered in the future.

Hoverflies rely on mimicry to protect themselves from predators. 

They resemble dangerous insects especially bees and wasps and even hover and buzz like them. Their mimicry is so good that predators mistake them for dangerous insects and leave them alone even though they are not dangerous as they do not sting. 

Hoverflies are so confident of their mimicry that unlike most other insects they do not fly away when approached and one can get many opportunities to get good close up pictures of them. 

Pictures can be useful when trying to identify this group of insects as unless one is a specialist it can be very difficult to tell species apart in the field.

Many species of hoverflies can be seen on flowers on warm spring days but even at this time of the year one can observe a number of species feeding on pollen produced by autumn and early winter flowering plants such as the daisies which are already in flower. 

Common species in Malta include the drone-fly (dubbiena dakar), the lesser drone-fly (dubbiena ta’ l-għajnejn irrigati), the common yellow-banded hoverfly (dubbiena żunżanija) and the slender hover-fly (dubbiena tal-fjuri). 

This article was published in The Times on 14.12.2011

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