Bee fly


The subject of my natural history post for this week is the bee fly or bombylius major. This bee-mimic is common in my part of the world (Southern England) in early spring.


Its rather imposing appearance can lead people to assume that it is dangerous but it cannot harm you: that long proboscis is merely a very efficient nectar guzzler. In fact, I think the bee fly is rather cute. Just me, perhaps.


They certainly look quite cute on the wing, with their spindly legs flying out Superman style from the chubby body. However, while they may not be harmful to humans, they have a sinister life cycle if you happen to be a bee.


This bee mimic lays its eggs by the nests of solitary bees. When the larva hatches, it uses a crown of spines on its head to batter its way into the cell of the bee pupa and slowly sucks the pupa dry.


Afterwards, the gorged larva pupates and finally emerges in its final form by battering its way out of the cell.


Needless to say, I have not been able to take photographs of the full life-cycle, just the disingenuously cute, fluffy fly.


For some more (and frankly better) pictures and two poems (yes!) about bee flies, visit my friend Giles Watson’s Flickr photostream. The second poem (which treats the life cycle) appears in a comment there.

PS Some of the images appear pixelated here.  They do not in the files I uploaded.  If anyone knows what I’m doing wrong, please can you help?  It’s a shame for them not to appear their best.

17 thoughts on “Bee fly

  1. Wonderful photos! How on earth do you capture it in flight like that??!!
    I’m not noticing any pixelation in the images – just how clear they are!
    I do know that if you tell WP to display the images in a size that is different from the original upload file, then sometimes, they can look a bit rough. I had that problem before. Regards, Steve

    • I use the same technique as I use for bees and hoverflies (see my In Flight Enterntainment post). There are always a lot of out takes! Thank goodness for pixels that cost nothing.
      Thanks for the advice re image. I was wondering if it was something like that. I am viewing on an iPad which may also have something to do with it.

  2. Lovely post Rachael, I think these look cute too! I have seen quite a few this year so far 🙂 Interesting facts on their lifecycle I will have to keep my eyes open. I know I would not have tried as many techniques if I still shot in film, I always played it so safe before DSLR.

  3. Very nice, if you don’t mind me spamming your notifications. Some very nice focussing going on.
    I really like the last one because it looks like a hard photo to get.

    How did you get the focus on the bee fly while it is flying?

    Kevin Chen

  4. I remember seeing one of these little dudes and being a little freaked out! I didn’t know if it was a bumble bee or some sort of hover fly or what!

    Great shots of these guys again. I am in awe of how you manage to get these photos using your camera hand held! Amazing stuff.

  5. Gorgeous series of photos Rachael. I haven’t come across these little creatures before, so it’s all interesting stuff for the old memory-bank too. Your blog is brilliant; such a professional presentation.

      • That’s brill Rachael, as I wondering about that very point when I wrote my comment. I hope your recuperation is progressing well.

  6. Pingback: Bee fly returns | Focused Moments

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