Hover flies

Hover files (true flies) are beneficial insects that appear in large numbers during the spring and summer. They are often mistaken for bees or wasps and can cause undue fear over possible stings.

Fortunately they do not have stings. Hover flies can be identified readily using the following information — alleviating needless fear and preventing the unnecessary destruction of these helpful insects.

Identifying hover flies

Hover flies belong to the order Diptera and the family Syrphinae. As can be seen in Figures 1 and 2, hover files only have one pair of wings.

Yellow and black striped fly with only one pair of wings

Yellow and black striped hover fly on a green rose leaf

In comparison, bees and wasps have two pairs of wings.

During flight, many hover flies move in a characteristic way. As their name suggests, they can remain in one spot, but also dart to and fro.

Hover flies may also have a typical fly's head with short antennae and bulbous eyes (Figures 1 and 2).

Managing hover flies

Management is not necessary and hover flies can be beneficial. They are considered the second most important pollinator next to bees. Some species of hover flies can control garden pests such as soft-bodied aphids and scale insects.

(Hand drawn) 5mm hover fly attacking green aphid

The immature hover flies look like maggots (Figure 3) and hunt by touch.

Their sharp mouths, pierce the skin of the prey prior to extracting body fluids.


Photo credits

  1. Hover fly on a finger to illustrate size. Timothy Gibb, Purdue Agriculture
  2. Hover fly on a rose leaf. Ashley Wash, ABC Adelaide
  3. Immature hover fly attacking an aphid. IPM Thailand
Page last updated: 18 Jan 2021