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John Fulton

John Fulton
Former County Extension Director

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In The Backyard

Horticulture columns and tips done on a timely basis
Syrphid Fly

Black and Yellow Flies are not Sweat Bees

Posted by John Fulton -

The appearance of the black and yellow flies we have become accustomed to probably means we have had a good year for flowers and also higher than normal aphid populations. . The yellow and black insects commonly called sweat bees are actually flies. Syrphid flies to be correct. Sweat bees are about a quarter of an inch long, and are usually a metallic green in color When in doubt, count the wings (I know – easier said than done). Bees will have two wings per side, while flies have one.

Syrphid fly is a generic name given to an entire group of flies. There are some differences in appearance and color, but the yellow and black color is the major one in our area. The other names for syrphid flies are hover flies or flower flies. They tend to hover around your arms and face when you have been perspiring, and land to lap up the sweat. They are also commonly found on flowers, hence the flower fly name, and do a good job of pollinating.

Syrphid flies are actually beneficial insects. They help pollinate, larvae feed on dead organic matter, and the larvae are predators of aphids. They cannot sting, but their mouthparts can usually be felt when lapping up sweat from sensitive areas. You may feel a slight pinch which makes you feel like you've been stung or bitten.

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