Posted by: Ross Gardner | July 18, 2012

From Lime Trees to Hoverflies

Following on from my last post regarding the finer points of the Lime tree, I happened to snap a rather fine insect visiting said tree.  Had I seen it beforehand, it most definitely would have been included in that post, so I thought I’d kick off with it here.

Lime blossom plus Volucella zonaria. Ross Gardner 2012

Volucella zonaria. Ross Gardner 2011

Volucella zonaria is our largest and certainly one of our most impressive hoverflies.  They are also an especially good hornet mimic.  I have to admit, on my initial impression on seeing this one, it was the wasp that I thought had come into view.

V. zonaria is one of five species of British Volucella hoverflies and is surely one species that even the most unenthusiastic non-hoverfly enthusiast would have to admit is a pretty impressive insect.  All of them in fact, are among the larger, more noticeable species at large in the British countryside and each, bar one, is associated with scavenging in the bottom of bee and wasp nests (one species even attacks the larvae), for which the effective mimicry of your host is no doubt a useful tool.

Several of the Volucella, including the above species, tend to be restricted to the more southerly counties of England, but two are widespread throughout.  It is V. pellucens that will perhaps be the more familiar.  A largish insect with a pale, pearlescent band, hovering just above head height and darting rapidly towards other flying insects, especially in an open woodland setting, will often belong this species.  A good supply of bramble blossom is a good bet for luring them down to ground level.

Volucella pellucens in flight. Ross Gardner 2012

The other is V. bombylans – the Bumblebee Hoverfly.  It is a superb bumblebee mimic, to the extent that it occurs in several colour forms.  It has a yellow and black-banded form, with a white tip to the abdomen, so as to resemble those bumblebees with similar combinations, a black and orange-tipped version for those types of bumblebees and a ginger-brown coat (although this is unusual) to match with the carder bees.  They are convincing in their subterfuge, but the large eyes comprising most of the head is a giveaway.

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