Bee Flies

Close up of adult bee fly pollinating a plant
Bee Fly Classification
Class: Insecta
Order: Diptera
Family: Bombyliidae
Genus: Many
Species: Many

The bee fly is an insect belonging to the Bombyliidae family. Bee flies are so named because some Bombyliidae species closely resemble bees.

Bombyliidae are members of the Diptera order, which is part of the Insecta class. The Bombyliidae family contains at least 4,500 species, including the bee fly. [1]

The bee fly is a mimic of the bee, in that many species of the insect look very similar to bees.

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    Why Are Bee Flies Important?

    Similarly to bees, bee flies also play a crucial role in pollination. During the process of flying between flowers in order to find food, bee flies transfer pollen from one flower to another. [2] 

    Bee flies are vital to the health of plants and flowers because they pollinate them, thus assisting the growth of those plants. A lack of pollination, such as that provided by bee flies, would result in the death of plants and flowers. 

    Considering that many plants provide food for humans, pollination is essential to our survival. 

    It is also helpful for people to understand what bee flies are so that they are not afraid of them. Since many people are afraid of being stung by bees, they may kill or eradicate bee mimics rather than allow them to live. 

    Where Can Bee Flies Be Found?

    A variety of bee flies can be found throughout the world, but they are most common in tropical and subtropical regions.

    Generally, bee flies prefer dry climates with a lot of sunshine, and they are often found in sandy and rocky areas. However, they are also commonly found in grassy areas in England, Scotland, and Wales.

    There are some species of bee flies that are poorly studied, whereas those found in the United Kingdom are fairly well understood. In general, bee flies exhibit a great deal of variety. 

    How to Identify a Bee Fly?

    It is possible to identify a bee fly by their small hairs on their bodies and their color, which is generally brown, gray, black, or white. Additionally, bee flies have long, thin legs and short, wide abdomens. 

    However, the appearance of bee flies varies widely across species, making them sometimes difficult to identify but most bee flies have some features that make them identifiable.

    One such feature is the location of the eyes on the top of the head of male bee flies.

    As with other flies, bee flies have mouthparts. There are, however, some species of bee fly that have mouth parts that are specifically designed for feeding on particular flowers.

    bee fly sitting on plant
    A bee fly's long tongue is a useful identifying characteristic. Although this tongue is often mistaken for a stinger, it is never used to harm humans or other animals.

    Another distinction between bee flies and bees is that bee flies have only one pair of wings, whereas bee species have two pairs of wings that can appear connected. 

    Additionally, bee flies have shorter antennas than bees. It is also possible to identify bee flies by their flight patterns, since they hover when they fly, which is something that bees do not usually do. 

    Where Do Bee Flies Live?

    Bee flies tend to live in gardens, woodlands, cliffs, and calcareous grasslands. During the larval stage of the bee fly, the larvae live in the nests of bees until they are fully developed.

    As a parasite, bee flies lay eggs in solitary bee nests when their mothers are absent, allowing the bee fly larvae to feed on the bee larvae. Upon developing into an adult, the larva leaves the nest, or it overwinters in the nest and emerges in the spring.

    Different Types of Bee Flies

    There are countless different types of bee flies around the world. As a result of their diverse appearance and geographical distribution, bee flies can be seen almost anywhere in the world in one form or another. [3]

    Appearance Location Scientific Name
    Dark-edged bee-fly Reddish orange abdomen, long tongue, darker markings and eyes, wings half translucent and half dark. England, Scotland, Wales. Bombylius major
    Dotted bee-fly Reddish orange with dark markings, long tongue, dark eyes, translucent wings with dark spots on them. Southern England and Wales. Bombylius discolor
    Western bee-fly Light gray body, dark brown eyes, translucent wings, long tongue. Southern England and Wales. Bombylius canescens
    Heath bee-fly Light brown body with whitish markings, translucent wings, dark eyes. Parts of England, Isle of Man. Bombylius minor
    Anthracite bee-fly Dark brown or black body and wings, with translucent mottling along the outer edge of the wings. England. Anthrax anthrax
    Mottled bee-fly Mottled body and wings, dark colors, reddish-brown “neck,” white markings on abdomen, dark face. England. Thyridanthrax fenestratus

    What Do Bee Flies Eat?

    Bee fly drinking water

    Adult bee flies eat nectar and pollen from flowers, using their long tongues to do so. There is a general preference among bee flies for flowers that are purple, blue, or white, while they are not interested in flowers that are yellow or pink. 

    Pollen is deposited on the tongue and on the hairs of bee flies as they feed on nectar and pollen. This aids in the pollination of flowers.

    During their larval stage, larval bee flies feed on the larvae of solitary bees, hatching directly into their nests and feeding on the larvae. This is an excellent source of protein for bee flies. 

    Do Bee Flies Pollinate?

    Bee flies are critical pollinators. Pollination is a phenomenon that occurs when bees and other insects such as bee flies, fly between flowers, picking up and dropping pollen at various flowers. 

    Insects such as the bee fly do not perform pollination on purpose. It is a byproduct of their foraging/feeding activities. 

    bee fly pollinating flower
    A bee fly's long tongue is often mistaken for a stinger, but is actually used to collect nectar and pollen from flowers.

    Bee flies pollinate plants when pollen sticks to the tiny hairs all over their bodies while they are foraging for flowers. Once the pollen is stuck to the bee flies’ bodies, they fly to another flower and some of the pollen falls off. This pollinates the plants, allowing them to reproduce. 

    Pollination is incredibly significant for the natural ecosystems of the world. Without pollination by bee flies, other insects and other means, cross-pollinating plants would be unable to reproduce, leaving humans without food sources.

    Do Bee Flies Sting or Bite?

    Due to their non-aggressive nature, bee flies do not bite or sting. As a result, bee flies are not inherently harmful to humans.

    Despite the fact that bee flies have long tongues that are sometimes mistaken for stingers, these tongues are never used to harm humans or other animals.

    In general, bee flies are completely harmless to humans, causing no harm to anyone except the solitary larvae they prey upon for food. As opposed to some insects, they do not even carry diseases.

    Reproduction & Lifecycle of Bee Flies

    Bee flies have a life cycle that is largely influenced by the solitary bees in the area. If solitary bees are active only during the summer months, then bee flies are typically also active during the summer months.

    Bee flies may, however, reproduce several times during the year in more tropical regions where solitary bees are active all year long. 

    In cooler climates, bee flies pupate over the winter and emerge as adults in the spring. Depending on the temperature, bee flies begin to appear in February or March. 

    When the female and male bee flies have mated and the females are fertilized, the females fly around looking for suitable bee nests to lay their eggs in. 

    two adult bee flies mating on flowers
    You might know that bee flies mate 'tail-to-tail' but did you know that they can fly while doing so?

    As soon as the female bee flies find a nest that they like, they wait for the female mother bee to leave it. Once the eggs are released from their ovipositors, they flick them toward the nest in the hope that the eggs will land inside or near it. 

    Once the bee fly larvae hatch, they enter the burrow of the bee, feeding on its larvae and killing them. Due to their ability to eat bee larvae, they are regarded as parasites of bees. 

    Once the bee fly larvae have fed on the bee larvae and have developed into adults, they emerge from the nest as adults. They may also stay in the nest as larvae or adults, depending on the temperature.

    When it is too cold outside, the bee fly larvae will remain in the nest to overwinter. They are generally still in larval or pupal form when they overwinter. If it is warm outside, bee flies emerge as adults and begin the cycle again. 

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