There’s a good reason why some bugs disguise themselves as another insect – it tricks predators like birds into thinking they are dangerous. One example of a bug in disguise is the hoverfly, which is easily confused with a wasp.
There are over 270 types of hoverfly in Britain and about 120 of them have the distinguished black and yellow markings of a wasp. Some hoverfly’s look like honey bees (shiny brown, orange and black), bumblebees (furry) or hornets (huge wasp-like insects which although big and scary aren’t as ill-tempered as wasps).
The hoverfly doesn’t have a sting in its tail and is completely harmless and thus attracts an unfair negative and sometimes aggressive responsive from humans. So how do you tell the passive look-a-like hoverfly from it’s stinging want-to-be wasp? The good news is that the hoverfly’s disguise isn’t perfect and if you look carefully there are a few tell-tale clues:
Eyes: large and round, especially large in some males so they can spot females better.
Antennae: short and stubby.
Thorax: only one pair of broad wings, usually held out flat in a backwards V shape when resting.
Abdomen: without a narrow waist; although a very few secretive species have perfected the narrow waist disguise.
Flight: World class hoverers. Some species can fly absolutely still in mid-air, then suddenly dart-off.
Sting: Absolutely none. Deep down all hoverfly know this but some are in denial and may still pretend.
Plus-points: apart from the no-stinging quality of their personality their larvae eat greenfly and can chomp through 50 aphids a day.
Lifestyle: Some hoverfly keep up their wasp pretense by living in wasp nests. Others live in compost heaps or take shelter in old trees.
Head: Eyes smaller than the hoverfly and slimmer. Tend to be kidney shaped, pinched in around the antennae.
Antennae: Long and slim.
Thorax: Two pairs of wings. The front pair are large, the back wings much smaller. Wings are held directly over the back when resting.
Abdomen: The very narrow waist is a key give-away.
Flight: A casual, bobbing motion whilst searching for food.
Sting: Only the queens and female workers sting.
Lifestyle: Live in a nest made from paper. By the end of summer it is normally the size of a football and can contain 10,000 wasps. When the first frost comes the wasps return to the nest and die. The queens find somewhere sheltered to overwinter.
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