One of the first signs of spring for the Identification and Advisory service is a wave of intriguing descriptions of a mysterious garden visitor. Here are some from last year:
“A curious flying insect which was about 10mm long, hairy, beige/brown coloured, triangular in shape with a long snout which had the ability of flying backwards.”
“Approx 1 cm long, wing span twice body length, mix of light brown and black, teardrop shaped, hovers and darts at leaves and dead twigs, long spear-like proboscis approx half body length apparently non retractable”
“If I was to describe it compared to other animals it was a cross between a bee, a golden mole and a narwhal - but that sounds really silly.”
“Small (about 1/2 in long) humming insects. They were light brown with a furry appearance and had a spike at the rear and at the front. Their way of flying was to hover then move, very quickly, to a plant or another part of the garden. I could also hear the hum of their wings. They had to settle when feeding from the grape hyacinths, and I observed that their wings were like bee's wings (clear) and not like moths. Were these baby hawk moths?”
“I knew it was a hornet because it had a horn”
“It looks like a bat, but was the size of a wasp and had insect wings and legs. What is it?”
These are all descriptions of the same type of insect - bee flies.
There are 9 species of bee fly found in the UK, but the weird and wonderful creatures described above are from the genus Bombylius. The most common species is Bombylius major, and you can read more about its fascinating lifestyle here.
For serious bee fly enthusiasts the best book on the subject is British Soldierflies and Their Allies by Alan Stubbs and Martin Drake
If your bee fly has a strong dark mark across the front half of its wings it is Bombylius major like the one above. If it has a spotty wing edge it is the rarer Bombylius discolor like the picture below. Both of these lovely images were sent in to us for identification by curious members of the public!
So keep your eyes peeled for bee flies this spring, and share your pictures on our bug forum like these fine people: