Wildlife Column with Prof Ian Rotherham
I mentioned in an earlier article the possibility of seeing hornets this summer, though whether the weather is hot enough for long enough where I live is open to question.
However, whilst I would certainly be interested to hear of hornet sightings from readers, there is another spectacular insect heading our way sometime soon. Indeed, this is one for readers to look out for. Not a stinging member of the wasp family, this is a ‘hoverfly’ and as the late entomologist Austin Brackenbury use to say, ‘it’s less bovver with a hover’. He would have been very pleased to see this one locally. It is called the ‘Hornet Mimic Hoverfly’; or scientific name, Volucella zonaria. For obvious reasons, it is also known as the ‘belted hoverfly’.
With black-and-yellow markings, the ‘hornet mimic hoverfly’ looks like its hornet namesake, but is harmless to humans as it possesses no sting. Its mimicry helps to protect it from predators while it searches for nectar, and to be fair, the first impression on seeing one is very much of a hornet.
At almost an inch or 2.5 centimetres long, this is the largest hoverfly species in the UK. It is also one of those fascinating species which is changing its range very rapidly.
They were only very rare visitors to the southern England up to the 1940s but since then they have established and become more common, doing especially well in hot summers. It is still spreading northwards, and this is most likely because of climate change; and is most frequent in urban areas which tend to be relatively warm.
The adults are migratory from their strongholds in the Mediterranean and so can turn up away from their usual areas if the weather is suitable.
The larvae live inside wasps’ nests and the pupae overwinter in the soil and hatch in following spring. The adult hoverflies feed on nectar of flowers of various plants and are seen from May to September, but most commonly in July/August. Do keep a look-out and let me know if you see one.
Professor Ian D. Rotherham, of Sheffield Hallam University, researcher, writer and broadcaster on wildlife and environmental issues.