Hovercraft in the Garden

Flower Fly hovering

Flower Fly hovering

They look like tiny bees or wasps zipping around the garden flowers, but they are Flower Flies. They are also known as Hover Flies for their ability to hover and even fly backwards, a feat that few other insects can match. Their resemblance to insects that sting most likely affords them some protection as they go about their business…and their business is quite useful in the garden and elsewhere.

Flower Fly showing halteres_

Flower Fly showing halteres

By the way, you can distinguish these flies from their look-alike bees by their wings – Flower Flies have two wings (as do all flies) and bees have four. If you look closely, you can even see the halteres, the highly modified hind wings of flies (consisting of a stalk and knob at the end) which vibrate up and down in time with the wings and act as gyroscopes in flight.

Flower Fly on Beardtongue

Flower Fly on Beardtongue flower

As a group, Flower Flies are considered important pollinators for a variety of flowers, both in our gardens and in the natural landscapes around us.

Green Lynx with Flower Fly

Immature Green Lynx Spider with Flower Fly prey

Adults feed on nectar from a variety of flowers and often fall victim to sit-and-wait predators like Ambush Bugs, Crab Spiders, and other spiders. Earlier this week, in a rare moment of sunshine, the garden was alive with insects visiting the various wildflowers. I found three immature Green Lynx Spiders lurking in the blossoms – two had captured Flower Flies and one a small bee.

Flower Fly

Flower Fly looking for nectar

The larvae of many species of Flower Fly are major predators of aphids and thus perform valuable pest control services on many species of our ornamental and crop plants. Pollination services, pest control, superb flying ability, mimicry, beauty, variety…the next time you are out among your wildflowers take a few moments to look for, and appreciate, these tiny beneficial insect hovercraft.

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