Bee-fly, Bombylius major
(body 12-16 mm long)
Photo: Richard Bartz (CCA Share Alike License)
Bee-flies belong to the Order Diptera (True Flies), Family Bombyliidae. The
example illustrated, Bombylius major, is the largest and best known of the British species.
The body is stout and furry, so that the fly has a strong superficial resemblance to a bumblebee,
although the long, spindly legs are rather different from those of a bee. It has a long, rigid
proboscis held out in front of the head, which is used to probe for nectar while the fly hovers at
flowers (rather like a humming bird). Its hovering and darting flight, accompanied by a high-pitched
whine, is much more agile than that of a bee. The larval stages live as parasites in the nests of
solitary bees (e.g., Andrena, Halictus and Colletes
species), where they eat the food stores and grubs of their host.
The life-history of Bombylius major has been observed and described by
T.A. Chapman (1878) in the Entomologist's Monthly Magazine, vol.14, pp.196-208.
Other insects often seen hovering near flowers, and which also mimic bees (and
wasps), include many species of hover-flies, as well as some of the hawk
moths, like the bee hawk moths and the hummingbird hawk moth.