Trying to photograph bee-flies

The bee-fly is one of those spring treats, like Swifts, that I always look forward to. They are one of the first spring specialists to appear, so when you see them (10 April this year for me), you know spring has sprung. And you have to be quick, because they may only be around a matter of days (I saw them between the 10th and 12th, and that was that).

We have several species in the UK, but generally speaking, certainly in the North, you’ll be seeing Bombylius major. They seem to be becoming more common, and more widely spread, and they are the type of thing that can cause people to panic. Here’s why:

bee Fly (B.major)

Bee Fly (B.major)

That’s a pretty lethal looking ‘sting’ on the front of it. The fly is about 2cm in length, and that implement is a good 5mm long. Easy enough to think at first glance that it’s a threat.

But the ‘sting’ is in fact a proboscis (literally ‘forward feeder’) used to feed on nectar from flowers. Bee-flies present no threat to us. They are not great news if you are certain species of bee however, as they are a parasite. They find where solitary bees are nesting, then hover outside and flick their eggs into the nest. The larvae then feed on the bee grubs.

When the beeflies emerged this year, I was determined to get a picture. They do a lot of hovering, so my hope was that if I got set somewhere I could get a picture. And the blown-up shot above isn’t bad, and the original is better:


Bee-fly in typical hover

And that makes it look easy. But of course, when you see a decent shot of any animal, what you don’t see are the hundreds or thousands of shots that were rejected. Like these:

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSCBut persistence pays off, and there were a couple I was happy with:

SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSCSo, next spring if you seem to be menaced by a hovering bumble bee with a massive front-end sting, don’t panic, it’s a harmless bee-fly.

If you want to know more, it’s well worth reading Erica McAllister’s blogpost on bee flies. It contains information on the different species, and on distinguishing bees and bee-flies.

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2 Responses to Trying to photograph bee-flies

  1. Emily says:

    Beautiful creatures, thanks for the photos.

  2. Pingback: Visiting chiffchaff and resident Long-tailed Tits | Why watch wildlife?

I welcome thoughts, comments and questions, so please feel free to share anything at all. Thanks, David

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