Wicklow People

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Hoverflies are good insects to have in your garden


The Marmalade Hoverfly is a common and beneficial garden insect

The Marmalade Hoverfly is a common and beneficial garden insect

The Marmalade Hoverfly is a common and beneficial garden insect

Hoverflies that hibernated as adults are beginning to emerge on warm sunny days to feed.

Marmalade has a distinctive orange-yellow colour and it comes in a number of varieties to suit individual tastes, some with peel of Seville oranges included others without. Those containing slices of peel may have the peel thick-cut or thin-cut.

One of our most common summer flies, and an abundant species on sunny days in flower-filled gardens, is the Marmalade Hoverfly so called because it has a marmalade-coloured abdomen marked with black bands some thick and some thin like slices of orange peel.

The fly's colour and banding is interpreted as possibly mimicry of wasps or bees to try to fool birds and other would-be predators to stay away for fear of getting stung. Hoverflies cannot sting, of course; they are completely harmless.

The idea that a harmless insect can gain an advantage by mimicking a harmful one was first proposed by nineteenth-century English naturalist Henry Walter Bates, so the phenomenon is known after him as 'Batesian mimicry'.

As its name states, a hoverfly is a fly that can hover. It does so like a hummingbird in front of flowers as it sucks sweet nectar from them.

180 different kinds of hoverfly have been recorded in Ireland. The Marmalade Hoverfly is the most common species and is the sole member of the group to have a common name in English.

This insect is also remarkable for the fact that it has such huge red eyes that they press against each other and occupy most of the creature's head. Males have bigger and more bulging eyes than females.

Hoverflies are true flies in that they appear to have only two wings. In fact, they have four wings, but their hind pair are reduced to two small structures like tiny table tennis bats that they use for stabilising during flight.

Hoverflies are good to have in gardens. Some species eat pollen and therefore act as pollinators as they go from flower to flower feeding. Others produce maggots that eat aphids, thrips, leafhoppers and other soft-bodied insects, and as natural enemies of pest species they are important agents in biological control.

Many hoverflies have a characteristic way of flying. They approach a flower, hover at it while they feed, suddenly dart sideways to another flower, hover again and repeat the process. Some are said to have such acrobatic flying capabilities that they are able to fly backwards!

Wexford People