Yesterday and today we have been visited by a large (4 - 5cm) hornet/bee/wasp-like insect. On both occasions it has settled on the budleia flowers as if collecting pollen although today it also kept buzzing my wife as she tried to hang the washing.
We're completely confused as it had some wasp characteristics but also bee characteristics! Unfortunately we do not have a picture but:
It does not have the wasp waist. Instead it seemed to have a one-piece body with distinct head (almost beetle like).
It had very, very bright yellow and black stripes of uniform width but did not have the "zig-zag" markings of a wasp (you could see that clearly from at least 15 feet).
It had very large wings (not sure how many) that seemed to have an orange hue although transparent.
As said it was about 4 - 5 cm in length and was at least 4 times the size of our usual wasps (of which we have lots!).
The body was very rotund like a bee but did come to a point at the tail-end.
The body was also definitely smooth and not hairy like a bee.
The head did not seem pointed or pinched like a wasp or hornet but more rounded like a bee.
It had no problem flying (I read that hornets struggle to fly).
All in, it resembled a cartoon drawing of a bee! The thing that really stood out was its size which seemed enormous and the brightness of the yellow stripes.
We live in south-east fringes of London if that helps.
Or perhaps the giant wood wasp: http://www.exploringthepotteries.org.uk/nof_website1/species/creepy_crawlies/other/pages/gwwasp.htm.
I agree of course Paul - but when these wing there way around the garden it is easy to convince yourself that they are the size of a pigeon.
They never look as impressive sitting on a pin as they do in life - but perhaps we shouldn't go there.
Just a quick question re the hoverfly pic Bombus... I said to myself, before reading the name, "That's a fly!"
What is it about some kinds of insects - especially a typical fly (not counting crane flies, gnats etc) - that instantly identify them, even when they are "pretending" to be something else? Something about the shape of the head maybe? Or, in a live specimen, the way they fly, or the way they "wash their hands" with that characteristic movement of the front legs?
I was familiar with the little hoverflies, but on first seeing some of those large bee-like hoverflies I was really puzzled because they looked so much like bees, (e.g. bees appear to have only one set of wings, and a proboscis too). Yet on closer inspection they had to be flies, and I'm not sure why.
Thanks to everyone for suggestions. Pretty certain it is this, the Hornet Mimic Hoverfly, Volucella zonaria. The only doubt is the colour as what we saw was very bright (canary) yellow and very black (almost jet)...but I guess there will be some variation in colours? Have looked at volucella inanis as well now that I've been pointed in right direction and the colours fit more with that but not size - what we saw was definitely 4 - 5 cm long as I immediately measured where it had been against the flower.