Friday, 24 August 2012

Meet the Hornet Hoverfly (Volucella zonaria)

With a body length of 16-22 mm, the hornet hoverfly (Volucella zonaria) is  Britain's largest hoverfly species and looks quite spectacular.

 Hornet hoverfly on creeping thistle (Cirsium arvense)
  in a local nature reserve in Reading

The adults resemble worker hornets and visit a range of flowers such as thistles (Cirsium and Carduus), brambles, privet and buddleia between June and September. The larvae live as commensals in wasp-and hornet nests and eat the detritus accumulating under the central nesting chambers. It is not yet fully understood how female hornet hoverflies are able to lay their eggs in wasp and hornet nests without being attacked. It is believed they may have some "calming pheromone" which keeps them safe.
The pupae overwinter in the soil and finally hatch in spring to form a new generation of hornet hoverflies.

The distribution of hornet hoverflies ranges from Asia and Northern Africa to Southern and Central Europe. In England they are mainly found in the South East, some scattered  records are also known from the South Coast, Devon and the area around Bristol. It appears that hornet hoverflies prefer suburban habitats (presumably because of climatic factors) and can be found in parks, gardens, local nature reserves and other suburban areas with a good supply of flowers and hornet and wasp nests.

Hornet hoverfly feasting on a thistle flower

If you life in the South East of England (or any other area within the distribution range), look out for this interesting hoverfly in your garden, park or local nature reserve.
Maybe the hornet hoverfly is just sipping nectar from a flower around the corner and you just have to find it ...


  1. Fantastic insect!! Have you submitted your sightings to Buglife?

  2. Hi Kirsty

    No we haven`t submitted the sighting to Buglife as we thought it is not a particularly rare insect in the Southeast. But we could do if you think Buglife is interested. Where exactly do I submit sightings?

  3. I think they are mapping the distribution, as they have a page on their website where you can submit your sightings:

    I'm jealous - they're not so common up in Yorkshire!

  4. Thank you for the link. I have submitted our hornet hoverfly sighting now. I am looking forward to see the results later in the year.

  5. Just seen one in our garden near Derby - are they moving North?

  6. hello, I really like this blog about Volucella Zonaria this type and honestly I found it in my own city, if not England. Most likely it came I normally live in Bosnia and Herzegovina. So he would like to know more about it

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  8. Think we had one on budlia in Doncaster in July 12 2018

  9. I saw one of these beautiful hoverflies in my garden this evening even managed to take a photo. We live on the coast in the south East and it's the first time I have ever seen one.

  10. I spotted this impressive looking hoverfly seemingly 'resting' on my south facing fence in Nottingham today....wonderful!