Tag Archives: Rhyngia campestris

Autumn Surprises

At the end of every summer I usually have a few regrets, mostly places I didn’t go, creatures I didn’t see, and photos I just missed. One of my regrets this year was I didn’t see so much as a single Hummingbird Hawkmoth (Macroglossum stellatarum) all spring and summer. And then it happened – the Autumn Equinox was gone and it was getting cooler, and one bright sunny morning (late morning) a Hummingbird Hawkmoth flew past me and landed on a Butterfly Bush to bask in the weakening sunlight, allowing me to sneak up and get a macro of what looks, to the casual observer, like a large and very unspectacular moth. Of course, we all know differently:

   But that wasn’t all – this spring and summer, for reasons which never revealed themselves, I didn’t see one Beaked Hoverfly (Rhyngia species). And then one appeared as if by magic only moments after the Hummingbird Hawkmoth had flown away, feeding on a cultivated convolvulus flower:

This year there are plenty of hoverflies to be seen, even now. There has been a mass blooming of dandelions this autumn, currently underway, and many handsome species can be seen feeding on them. And their favourites, the convolvulus flowers, are still blooming in many places. Here is the very common hoverfly species Syrphus ribesi feeding on Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium). However, it seems some of the predators which stalk these flowers are still about – I didn’t notice it when I took this photo, but look at the white object beneath the flower. Do you know what that is?

This bright white beast, which looks like a fallen petal, is a female Flower Crab Spider (Misumena vatia) and the hoverfly is very lucky it had left the flower as it almost certainly would not have seen the spider until after it had been caught by it. Autumn, more than any other time of year, is dominated by spiders. Flies beware!

A sinister-looking fly

A number of people have asked me about a sinister-looking fly with a big pointy beak on its head, which they have been seeing around their gardens lately. Many people are wondering if these are the horse-flies I was alluding to in an earlier instalment. You’ll be glad to know you are perfectly safe, as this is actually Rhyngia campestris, known to its friends as the Beaked Hover Fly. The photos below are very close up, so the insect looks much bigger than it appears in real life, but imagine it to be roughly the size of the more troublesome House Fly.

The Beaked Hover Fly. Here you can see it has a lower 'jaw' which opens beneath the beak to release a very long proboscis which it uses to feed on nectar.
The Beaked Hover Fly feeding on viola nectar. Here you can see it has a lower ‘jaw’ which opens beneath the beak to release a very long proboscis which it uses to feed on nectar.

Beaked Hover Flies are especially fond of violets, violas and pansies, and their extremely long probosces seem to have evolved to feed on these kinds of flowers. But they like Russian Comfrey and Wild Mustard too.

When seen from above the extraorinary length of the proboscis is easy to see. In this case feeding on a viola.
When seen from above the extraorinary length of the proboscis is easy to recognise. In this case the fly is feeding on a viola.

Anyhow, there is absolutely nothing to fear from this harmless nectar-feeder. It’s a vitally important pollinator of our plants, and our very lives depend on the existence of these creatures and their relatives. It may not be particularly colourful (it looks like beautiful amber to me), but it does have a lovely beak.