Dark-edged Beefly - Bombylius major

To identify flies to family level use a simple wing venation key such as A Key to the Families of British Diptera, an AIDGAP by D. Unwin, published by the FSC and available as a free download (scroll down to the titles list) or a more detailed key which includes many physical characters such as The European Families of the Diptera by P. Oosterbroek. The expert dipterists on the DipteraInfo forum are also very happy to identify, often to species level, from good photographs.

Scientific Name: Bombylius major

English Name: Dark-edged Beefly

French Name: Le Grand bombyle

5 Key Characters:
  • a brown furry bee lookalike.
  • long rigid proboscis which can't be retracted.
  • makes a clearly audible high pitched whining buzz when hovering or flying.
  • dark brown patch along leading edge of wings (not visible when flying).
  • very variable in size, from small to moderately large (6 - 12.5 mm body length).
Lookalikes: Other Bombylius and Villa spp of beefly, which do not have the large dark patch on the wings; Hemipenthes spp, Thyridanthrax spp and Anthrax spp, also beeflies with dark wing patches, but which are much more velvety black in appearance. B. major is by far the commonest early spring beefly, so if you are seeing a beefly in March or April it is likely to be this species.

Habitat: Gardens, woodland rides and edges, sunny sheltered places, especially where solitary bees are nesting nearby (B. major is a parasite of Andrena spp mining bees). Visits a very wide range of spring flowers, including primrose, lesser celandine, wood anemone, blackthorn and other Prunus spp, wild cherry, ground ivy, violets, bugle, and sallow. They are particularly partial to blue flowers such as Narrow-leaved Lungwort Pulmonaria longifolia and in the garden Honesty is a great attraction for them.

Flight Period: March-April-May-June.

Status: Common and abundant.

Photographed by Loire Valley Nature:

Photographs numbered from left to right and top to bottom. 1-3 a female, resting on a Columbine Aquilegia vulgaris near Chaumussay in April.

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