Bee-flies are familiar springtime insects, often seen hovering over flowers such as primroses, and using their long proboscis to feed on nectar. They are rather cute and cuddly looking flies! However, their life-cycle is not entirely benign, as they lay their eggs near the nest burrows of solitary mining bees, and the bee-fly larvae make their way into the bees' nests, where the bee-fly takes over the nest and feeds on its contents.
Bee-flies are in family Bombyliidae, one of the 11 families included in the Soldierflies and Allies Recording Scheme. Every spring since 2016 the scheme has run "Bee-fly Watch", aimed at getting people to look out for these flies, enjoy watching their activities, and record them to add to our knowledge of distribution and flight activity.
In 2019 Bee-fly Watch is running again, and is being promoted more widely via Dipterists Forum as part of International Year of the Fly. If you can find and recognise a bee-fly you can take part! To join in, see the following links:
- Bee-fly Watch main page (on the recording scheme website), see also the results page
- Bee-fly Watch recording form (add your records to this form, or via the standard iRecord forms or iRecord app)
- Summary of the 2019 records on iRecord as they come in
- Bee-fly identification guide (pdf download, 2.3. MB)
- Steven Falk's bee-fly photos on Flickr
The species you are most likely to see in spring is the Dark-edged Bee-fly, Bombylius major, which is widespread in the UK from March to June. In the south another spring-flying species may be seen, Dotted Bee-fly, Bombylius discolor (much less common but has been spreadin in recent years). Later in summer there are two further species, Western Bee-fly, Bombylius canescens (fairly widespread in south-western UK), and Heath Bee-fly, Bombylius minor (very rare in Dorset and the Isle of Man). The two spring species have different wing-markings and can usually be identified from photos. The summer ones have unmarked wings and are trickier to tell apart. See the identification guide (link above) for full details.
BRC supports Bee-fly Watch and the recording scheme by hosting the scheme website, and providing recording forms and reports via iRecord.
Flight period of Dark-edged Bee-fly (Bombylius major) based on Bee-fly Watch records 2016-2018 – in 2019 the first bee-flies have already been reported in February, the earliest confirmed sightings ever in the UK:
This article was published in the BRC Newsletter February 2019