Bee-fly

27 March 2019 | Posted in Charlotte Owen , Insects
Bee-fly
Dark-edged bee-fly © Neil Fletcher

By Charlotte Owen

WildCall Officer

As spring gets underway and flowers begin to bloom, we start to see more insects on the wing. Alongside the familiar buzz of the bumblebees, busily foraging for nectar and pollen, keep an eye out for something a little bit different. It certainly looks like a bee, and it even buzzes like a bee, but its legs are a bit too gangly and there is a long, pointy bit at the front.  Is it a bee?  Is it a fly?  Well, it’s a bee-fly.

The bee-fly is somewhat unimaginatively named for its half-bee, half-fly appearance. It is in fact all-fly but it has evolved a cunning disguise so that it can masquerade as a fluffy bumblebee. There are four species of bee-fly in Britain but the one most commonly seen is the dark-edged bee-fly, which has a dark-coloured band along the front edge of each wing - but this can be hard to see unless the bee-fly settles. They often visit gardens and parks, especially in spring, and the long ‘nose’ is actually a tongue, or proboscis, used to sip nectar from its favourite flowers: primrose, ground ivy, blackthorn and wild cherry. 

They don’t sting or bite and are completely harmless to humans but they do have a dark side. Bee-flies are parasites and lay their eggs in the nests of solitary mining bees - the ones that dig tiny burrows in the ground. The bee-fly larvae hatch out and lurk in the shadows until the unsuspecting bee larvae are big and juicy enough to make a decent meal.  If you spot a bee-fly on the ground it’s likely to be a female getting ready to lay an egg, and it’s a fascinating process.  She will first dip the tip of her abdomen into the soil to coat the tiny egg with soil particles, which provides useful camouflage but also adds some strategic weight. This is key to delivery: she will hover over the entrance of a mining bee’s burrow and flick the egg towards the tunnel, like throwing a dart, and the added weight makes it a lot easier for her to score a bullseye.

Please share your sightings with Bee-Fly Watch

IL029651 

dotted bee-fly © Michael Blencowe

Comments

  • David Meagher:

    28 Mar 2019 12:34:00

    Bee fly Seen a week ago in my front garden No. 15 PO22 8BS

  • Chris Hinton:

    28 Mar 2019 13:10:00

    Just seen your email while sitting in Dorset pub and had been wondering about the insect. Pleased to know it was a bee-fly. Sorry we can’t say we’re in Sussex.

  • Andrea Eserin:

    28 Mar 2019 13:13:00

    I’ve been reading up about these as we have a huge colony of solitary mining bees on our sunny chalky sloped garden. Last week the lawn was covered in lawn bees and what we assumed were their larvae cases. We were worried for the bees, but the next day we had almost as many as usual merging from their nests so they don’t seem to have been too badly affected.

  • Cathy:

    28 Mar 2019 13:25:00

    Hi, I saw my first bee-fly last weekend! So excited, I thought I could register my sighting as I hadn’t seen one in Sussex before, but couldn’t find where to do it. Maybe they’re common now.

  • Alan Rose:

    28 Mar 2019 14:09:00

    I saw one of these “ bee flies” last year during early summer. Nice to know what they are known as. One hears about pollinating insects decreasing. Given, in this case, that they eat one another, it is not surprising.

  • Ann Stewart:

    28 Mar 2019 14:21:00

    Thank you. We have bee flies here every spring. We also have mining bees, but they don’t seem solitary. We have a number in the same area. Would each tunnel belong to just one bee? Our bees are black and seem to be gone some time in the summer. Could we have an article on them too, please.

  • Cathy:

    28 Mar 2019 14:49:00

    Hi, I saw my first bee-fly last weekend! So excited, I thought I could register my sighting as I hadn’t seen one in Sussex before, but couldn’t find where to do it. Maybe they’re common now.

  • Philip Booker:

    28 Mar 2019 15:37:00

    There are loads of them in my garden at the moment :-)

  • Paul Bennett:

    28 Mar 2019 15:47:00

    I saw one yesterday 28 March was about to video it as never seen one before but it flew away before I could. Thank you now I know what it is.

  • Paul Whitehead:

    28 Mar 2019 17:00:00

    Saw one near Ashurst, West Sussex, a few days ago. Have seen them in previousyears here.

  • Miranda Pellew:

    28 Mar 2019 17:37:00

    Saw one yesterday in my garden in Ovingdean. Beautiful.

  • John Arnott:

    28 Mar 2019 17:44:00

    We saw our first Bee-fly last Monday 25th March at Iping Common while eating our lunch and enjoying a Siskin singing in the mature pines.

  • Viv:

    28 Mar 2019 18:10:00

    They’ve been busy in the garden today near Chichester. Noticed my first ones on the 25th.

  • Ed edwards:

    28 Mar 2019 18:25:00

    Terrific post

  • Sue:

    28 Mar 2019 18:26:00

    Aah. How interesting. I have these in my East Sussex garden every year, including this one, and always referred to the as a fly-like bee! Now I can give them their real name, though it is very similar.

  • Sarah Buckley:

    28 Mar 2019 18:47:00

    I saw a bee fly ( which a friend of mine told me what it was) it was in my garden 3 miles from Chichester, West Sussex.
    At the bottom of the South Downs.

  • A Thomsom:

    28 Mar 2019 19:29:00

    Saw Bee-fly Sunday 24th in garden in Sussex.
    Always happy to see an insect that doesn’t sting or bite!

  • Don Richardson:

    28 Mar 2019 19:52:00

    Bee fly seen this afternoon on bluebell leaves in garden BN16 1EF

  • 28 Mar 2019 20:22:00

    We have spotted our first bee-fly in Hove, in the back garden mid-day. Very excited by it. I was reading about them in this article; my wife started telling me about this odd “bee” she had just scene. Thanks Sussex Wildlife Trust. You did good education today!

  • 28 Mar 2019 23:39:22

    All records welcome for Bee-fly Watch! See: http://www.brc.ac.uk/soldierflies-and-allies/bee-fly-watch (Sussex records are shared with the records centre)

  • Steve Dubois:

    29 Mar 2019 00:20:13

    I work outside with plants every day, so will be looking for this species with interest.
    Thanks for the info.

  • Mick:

    29 Mar 2019 00:25:04

    Live in Worthing and get these every year

  • Karen:

    29 Mar 2019 06:28:00

    I saw a bee fly come to a pot of geraniums whilst sitting on my south facing patio in Worthing enjoying the sunshine. Last year I also saw some in the same area but didn’t know then, what they were.

  • Sara:

    29 Mar 2019 09:26:00

    Last week my neighbour showed me a bee fly she spotted in her garden in Steyning. We’d never seen one before.

  • Pam Hunter:

    29 Mar 2019 14:09:00

    Been seeing them for the last couple of weeks on primulas and milkmaids. Delightful.

  • Mike:

    29 Mar 2019 18:42:00

    Saw 3 in my Horsham garden on Wednesday 27th, mainly around primroses. I guess this means there are mining bees around, so now I need to find out what they look like and keep an eye out for them too!

  • Martin Haymon:

    29 Mar 2019 20:31:00

    Saw one today at Ditching common lnr, in area of coppiced woodland. Appeared to be using proboscis to drink, no flowers in area.

  • Jean:

    29 Mar 2019 21:36:00

    Thanks for the info. I saw an insect on our forget-me-nots. It appeared to have a ‘pointed’ head and a proboscis as its head was some distance from the flower. It had an orange band across its brown furry back. So I’m guessing, but I hope it is one type of bee-fly

  • Fiona:

    30 Mar 2019 08:11:00

    Thanks for info. Bee fly at bn86ll 28 March.

  • Valerie Marriott:

    30 Mar 2019 13:54:00

    Thank you for showing me what a bee-fly looks like, I saw 2 in Gillridge Lane, Crowborough, this am.

  • graham whitehead:

    30 Mar 2019 14:23:00

    Spotted several Bee Flies in Bluebell wood at Slindon on 29th March 2019.

  • Kim:

    30 Mar 2019 20:33:00

    Saw a bee fly yesterday (29th March) when visiting a friend in Little Breach, Chichester. Will be vigilant in my own garden now!

  • James Palmer:

    31 Mar 2019 10:21:00

    Bee fly spotted Tuesday 26th March near Fawsley Hall Fawsley Northamptonshire

  • Lisa Fishbourne:

    31 Mar 2019 15:03:00

    Seen a bee-fly today feeding on forget-me-not flowers in my garden in Ferring. It looks a bit like a hummingbird moth 🐝

  • Josalyn:

    31 Mar 2019 18:08:00

    Saw one in my front garden in Horsham yesterday, lovely!

  • Michael Baxter:

    25 May 2019 11:24:00

    I saw two furry 4mm ‘bee-flies’ feeding on ‘for-get-me-nots’ a few weeks ago in mid -April. Hadn’t seen these charming flies before. Haven’t seen them since. Peacehaven.

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