Is it a bee? Is it a fly? Actually it's a bee fly

I visited Chapman's Pond, Dringhouses (York) this morning, as the OPAL Water Centre guys were up doing some more water sampling. They visit the site every three months and do chemical, biological and physical analyses (See their pages on Aquatic Biomonitoring for more info).

Whilst they were out on the pond, I spent a happy half hour walking in the scrubby area of the site, which is great for wildlife. There were masses of birds singing in the trees, and I spotted a couple of bumblebees and a speckled wood butterfly.

I also saw this on some brambles - this amazing looking creature is a bee-fly

Bee fly on Bramble

The thing sticking out of the front of the bee is called a proboscis, and it uses it to suck nectar out of flowers. The bee-fly has a dark side though, it comes out at this time of year to lay it's eggs in the burrows of solitary bees. The eggs hatch into larvae and eat the food meant for the solitary bee larvae. The bee fly larva then undergoes metamorphosis into a grub-like creature and then eats the bee larvae!!

Isn't nature amazing? Bee-flies tend to be out and about March-June, so why not have a look in your local greenspace and see if you can spot some?



Latin name

Sarah West's picture

I should probably have added that this is most likely to be Bombylius major, the most common of our bee-flies.

more on bee-flies

kitenet's picture

Bee-flies are fascinating creatures. In the book on this group of flies by Alan Stubbs and Martin Drake they describe how the females have a 'sand chamber' on the underside of their abdomen, with which they can collect particles of soil or sand (you can sometimes see them pushing their abdomen onto the soil to do this). Their tiny eggs are sticky, and when the bee-fly produces an egg she will coat it with some soil particles before flicking the egg out and towards the nests of potential bee hosts. The soil particles may help camouflage the eggs and may also give them a bit more weight so that they can be flicked with greater accuracy.


Martin Harvey

OPAL Biodiversity Observatory