Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLD) Stats Specimen Records: 20040 Specimens with Sequences: 16930 Specimens with Barcodes: 14426 Species: 2207 Species With Barcodes: 1966 Public Records: 1655 Public Species: 523 Public BINs: 302
Syrphidae (Hover Flies, Flower Flies, Syrphid Flies, Drone Flies) These are small to medium-sized flies that can hover motionless in the air. They usually mimic bees or wasps, often with black and yellow stripes along the abdomen. The proboscis is short, therefore Syrphid flies tend to visit smaller flowers with short nectar tubes in sunny places. At larger flowers, some Syrphid flies feed on stray pollen, while other species are attracted to salty perspiration. These latter species are sometimes called "Sweat Bees," which is a misnomer. Depending on the species, the larvae feed on aphids and other insects, or they may scavenge for dead animal material in moist soil, or they may feed in water that is rich in organic decomposition. There are numerous species in this family. As a group, Syrphid flies are probably the most common and important pollinators of prairie wildflowers among the various families of flies.
This family of flies is found all over the world, and there are thousands of species. Nobody knows exactly how many species there are in Michigan or in the whole Great Lakes region, but it is probably more than 150.
Adult flies of many species in this family are mimics of bees or wasps. They are mostly black with yellow or orange stripes. A few others are brown, or metallic green or blue (these may also be mimics of bees). They have large eyes and short mouthparts formed into a tube with a sponge at the end. Their bodies may be slim or stout and are sometimes flattened top-to-bottom. Some species wag they abdomens up and down when they land. Like all flies they only have two wings, their hind wings are reduced (see More Information about True Flies for more).
Larvae are more variable. They are all legless and headless, but some aquatic species have long breathing tubes on their hind ends, some have tough skins, some look like little slugs. Color varies from white to brown to green.
Range length: 4.0 to 25.0 mm.
Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Hoverflies, sometimes called flower flies or syrphid flies, make up the insect family Syrphidae. As their common name suggests, they are often seen hovering or nectaring at flowers; the adults of many species feed mainly on nectar and pollen, while the larvae (maggots) eat a wide range of foods. In some species, the larvae are saprotrophs, eating decaying plant and animal matter in the soil or in ponds and streams. In other species, the larvae are insectivores and prey on aphids, thrips, and other plant-sucking insects.
About 6,000 species in 200 genera have been described. Hoverflies are common throughout the world and can be found on all continents except Antarctica. Hoverflies are harmless to most other animals despite their mimicry of more dangerous wasps and bees, which serves to ward off predators.
The size of hoverflies varies depending on the species. Some, like members of the genus Baccha, are small, elongate and slender, while others, like members of Criorhina are large, hairy, and yellow and black. As members of Diptera, all hoverflies have a single functional pair of wings (the hindwings are reduced to balancing organs). They are brightly colored, with spots, stripes, and bands of yellow or brown covering their bodies. Due to this coloring, they are often mistaken for wasps or bees; they exhibit Batesian mimicry. Despite this, hoverflies are harmless.
With a few exceptions (e.g.), hoverflies are distinguished from other flies by a spurious vein, located parallel to the fourth longitudinal wing vein. Adults feed mainly on nectar and pollen. They also hover around flowers, lending to their common name.
An example of a well-known hoverfly maggot is the rat-tailed maggot, of the drone fly, Eristalis tenax. It has a breathing siphon at its rear end, giving it its name. The species lives in stagnant water, such as sewage and lagoons. The maggots also have a commercial use, and are sometimes sold for ice fishing.
On occasion, Hoverfly larvae have been known to cause accidental myiasis in humans. This occurs when the larva are accidentally ingested on food or from other sources. Myiasis causes discomfort, pain, or itching, however, Hoverflies do not normally prey upon humans and cases of myiasis from Hoverflies is very rare.
Larvae of hoverflies are often found in stagnant water. Adults are often found near plants, their principal food source being nectar and pollen. Some species are found in more unusual locations; for example, members of the genus Volucella can be found in bumblebee nests, while members of Microdon are myrmecophiles, found in ant or termite nests. Others can be found in decomposing vegetation.
Hoverflies are important pollinators of flowering plants in a variety of ecosystems worldwide. Syrphid flies are frequent flower visitors to a wide range of wild plants as well as agricultural crops and are often considered to be the second most important group of pollinators after wild bees. However, there has been relatively little research into fly pollinators compared with bee species. It is thought that bees are able to carry a greater volume of pollen on their bodies, but flies may be able to compensate for this by making a greater number of flower visits.
Like many pollinator groups, syrphid flies range from species that take a generalist approach to foraging by visiting a wide range of plant species to those which are specialists and are more selective in the plants they visit. Although hoverflies are often considered to be mainly non-selective pollinators some hoverflies species are highly selective and carry pollen from one plant species. It is thought that Cheilosia albitarsis will only visit Ranunculus repens.
Specific flower preferences differ between species but syrphid fly species have repeatedly been shown to prefer white and yellow coloured flowers. Non-visual visual flower cues such as olfactory cues also help the flies to find flowers, especially those which are not yellow. Many syrphid fly species have short, unspecialized mouth parts and tend to feed on flowers that are more open as the nectar and pollen can be easily accessed.
There are also a number of fascinating interactions between orchids and hoverflies. The orchid species Epipactis veratrifolia mimics alarm pheromones of aphids in order to attract hoverflies for pollination. Another plant, the slipper orchid in southwest China, also achieves pollination by deceit by exploiting the innate yellow color preference of syrphide.
There are more than 40 species of syrphid flies in New Zealand. These flies are found in a variety of habitats including agricultural fields and alpine zones. Two hoverfly species in Switzerland are being investigated as potential biological control agents of hawkweeds in New Zealand.
Native hoverfly species Melanostoma fasciatum and Melangyna novaezelandiae, are common on agricultural fields in New Zealand. Coriander and tansy leaf are known to be particularly attractive to many species of adult hoverflies which feed on large quantities of pollen of these plants. In organic paddocks hoverflies were found to feed on an average of three and a maximum of six different pollen types. M. fasciatum has a short proboscis which restricts it to obtaining nectar from disk flowers.
Syrphid flies are also common visitors to flowers in alpine zones in New Zealand. Native flies (Allograpta and Platycheirus) in alpine zones show preferences for flower species based on their colour in alpine zones; syrphid flies consistently choose yellow flowers over white regardless of species. However, syrphid flies are not as effective pollinators of alpine herb species as native solitary bees.
Many species of hoverfly larvae prey upon pest insects, including aphids and the leafhoppers, which spread some diseases such as curly top. Therefore, they are seen in biocontrol as a natural means of reducing the levels of pests.
Stubbs, A.E. and Falk, S.J. (2002) British Hoverflies An Illustrated Identification Guide. Pub. 1983 with 469 pages, 12 col plates, b/w illus.British Entomological and Natural History Society [ISBN 1-899935-05-3]. 276 species are described with extensive keys to aid identification. 190 species are displayed on the colour plates. 2nd edition, pub. 2002, includes new British species and name changes. Also includes European species which are likely to be found in Britain. There are additional black & white plates illustrating the male genitalia of the difficult genera Cheilosia and Sphaerophoria.
Vockeroth, J.R. A revision of the genera of the Syrphini (Diptera: Syrphidae) Memoirs of the Entomological Society of Canada, no. 62:1-176. Keys subfamilies, tribes and genera on a world basis and under regions.
van Veen, M.P. |(2004) "Hoverflies of Northwest Europe, Identification Keys to the Syrphidae". KNNV Publishing, Utrecht. [ISBN 9050111998]
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