The Bee-Fly Aerodynamics

posted in: Gardening | 24
I’ve got a question for you: When is a bee not a bee?or maybe I should rephrase that and ask when is a fly not a fly? Answer: When it’s a Bee-Fly  from the Bombyliidae family.  Last week during our Scottish spring heatwave there were a few opportunities to watch these little Perthshire Bee-Flies in action in the garden.  The Bombylius major look so soft and fluffy with great big dangling legs, a large straight proboscis on the front of the head, bold patterned wings, small pointed antennae, and they love to hover and buzz like a bee.
Bombylius major Bee-Fly in a Perthshire spring garden
Bombylius major  Bee-Fly in mid air – body length approx 1cm
They are harmless to humans and don’t sting and are a great pollinator but in the insect world these diptera are parasites and bee mimics. They flick their eggs in mid air and their larvae parasitize the underground nests of solitary bees’, wasps’ and beetles nests.

If the females are unable to flick their eggs near the nest they’ll plant them on flowers visited by the host insects. The developing larvae then make their way to the host nest or attach themselves to the bees or wasps to then be carried to the nest. 

The Flight of the Bee-Fly

Bombylius major Bee-Fly in flight
Bee-Fly aerodynamics
Getting  two flies in the one frame was just impossible……..they are stealth fliers after all. Anyone who has seen these flies in action knows that once they move or should I say dart up and down they do so at warp speed!
Bombylius major Bee-Fly in flight
eyes close together – possibly the male  – thanks to BBC Springwatch for adding this photo to their favourites

I don’t use automatic settings on my camera so along with adjusting for exposure as the light changed I was having to manually focus and it was a toss up on whether to keep the aperture wide at 2.8 and isolate the bee-fly or go smaller and draw attention to the background.  As you can see I kept the aperture wide shooting at f2.8 though it’s at times like this that I wish my macro lens had image stabilization.

Bombylius major Bee-Fly in flight
possibly the female due to her eyes being further apart…..
As I sat on the patio  I watched one of them in mid air about 3 feet above the flowers flick something down into the border…….something did fall from between those legs – I didn’t imagine it– I saw it happen twice  though whether egg or pollen grain I’ll never know.   Oh if only I had photographed it happening…..but here’s the closest I got to capturing that moment though I had to crop the photograph so that you could see what I think is an egg.



I would need David Gibbs (our UK expert on Bombyliidae) to confirm this for me though.


Bombylius major Bee-Fly feeding on Pulmonaria spring blooms
Bee-Fly feeding on Pulmonaria
They prefered to feed from the Pulmonaria spring blooms rather than my primula …………and this particular Pulmonaria plant is so popular with all the nectar feeding insects just now in the garden. Yet again it was impossible to have both of them in the same frame and I think these pulmonaria photos show the same bee-fly.
Bombylius major Bee-Fly feeding on Pulmonaria spring blooms
Bee-Fly feeding on Pulmonaria


Bombylius major Bee-Fly at rest on the bare earth
Bee-Fly at rest on the bare earth


Bombylius major Bee-Fly sleeping upside down
Bee-flies are not new to the leavesnbloom blog as last Spring I found one I presume fast asleep hanging upside down on my Cercis Forest Pansy!  and so easy to photograph with a small aperture this time around.
You’ll probably have Bee-Flies in your own garden this spring and don’t even realise it.
Follow Rosie Nixon:

Photography Tutor and Gardener

Rosie is a garden photographer, writer and nature lover. She enjoys soaking up nature and is easily distracted from doing the weeding by anything that flutters, flies, buzzes, creeps or crawls! She enjoys sharing the beauty of creation through her photography. Rosie has been featured on TV on BBC2's The Beechgrove Garden and she uses the outdoors as her natural light studio. Her work can be seen at one of Scotland's only photography galleries - Close Gallery, 4b Howe Street, Edinburgh. She also writes and shares her nature images on

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24 Responses

  1. Curbstone Valley Farm

    Rosie, your photographs are excellent. It really makes me want to get the new lens I've been dreaming about. My existing macro lens sat covered in dust for a long time, as I mostly used to shoot wildlife at distance and used a zoom lens. Garden blogging though, I really NEED (well want, but mostly NEED) a higher quality macro. I just can achieve that wide an aperture with my existing lens. I tried photographing these amazing bee-flies in our gardens when I was shooting those Mason Bees, and they're not easy to track and shoot! They do hover, which helps, but they also zip, usually as the shutter is released, so these captures are great!

  2. Lona

    What amazing photographs. They are such strange little creatures but beautiful too.

  3. Bernie H

    Fantastic collection of photos. I've never heard of this little guy, but once seen up close, it can never be forgotten. What a wonderful looking creature.

  4. HolleyGarden

    I'm so impressed with your pictures. And the fact that you actually saw something being flung from between her legs! Very interesting information, too. I'll bee 🙂 on the lookout for a bee-fly!

  5. ann

    Now, these bee photos are absolutely amazing. Such great photography.

  6. naturestimeline

    I know of three bloggers now who have witnessed Bee-flies in the past week.
    As ever, a most informative and enjoyable post.

    Kind Regards

    Tony Powell

  7. Linda

    I have never seen one of these…don't know if we have them here in the US…marvelous photos of a very interesting insect!

  8. drwetzel

    Nice captures of the bee-fly in flight. I have not seen these before. Thanks for posting this.

  9. Finn

    You're photographs are superb! I've tried on various occasions to get good pictures of bee flies and never once come close to what you have achieved. Thanks for sharing.

  10. Caroline Gill

    Your post is fascinating and your Bee-Fly (as opposed to Fly-Be!) photos are fantastic. I have yet to see another of these creatures in my garden. The whole matter of mimicry in the natural world is amazing …

  11. eileeninmd

    Great post and amazing photos. The bee-fly is new to me also. Thanks for sharing the information. Have a wonderful day.

  12. Leora

    Your top photo is gorgeous – capturing a tiny bee in flight with a beautiful background is a skilled feat.

  13. Libby Rodriguez

    Wow!!!!! Wildly-impressive photos!!! The egg on the leg? Amazing! Plus, I really learned a lot about these flies. Really first-rate post!


    Hello Rosie..welcome to Nature Notes…I had never heard of these little guys but I have just started reading about bees and like-a-bees..amazing photos and it certainly does look like an egg. I am going to have to research a blog about what similar insects we have here in my area..wonderful post..Michelle

  15. Carver

    You got some great shots. This was a new one for me. I'm pretty sure I've never seen them.

  16. Pat

    Today at my daughters in Northeast Florida we had the honor of seeing something we had never seen before and that is the bee fly. It took me a while of searching but I found them here. It is nice to know that they aren't harmful to humans and there were quite a few of them flying around. I would love to know more about them and if they are native to my area. Thanks for you post of the pictures it was a great help in my search.

  17. Pat

    Great information about the bee fly and I would love to learn more about them. Today was the first time I had ever seen them where I live. I was fortunate to be able to share this experience with my Daughter on Mothers Day. It will be a memory I will cherrish forever. Thanks for Posting the pics and info.