These are a couple of the Volucella species, the Chinooks of the hoverfly world and, if you live in the southern parts of Britain, they’ll be out there hovering along woodland paths and in local parks near you right now. Before you panic and get out your fly swat, these hoverflies may look a little menacing – and some of them even look a bit like Hornets – but, please rest assured, they are all completely harmless. And, if you take a little time for a closer look, you will soon see what incredibly handsome mini-beasties they are.
With a wing length between 15 and 20mm, Volucella zonaria is the largest British hoverfly and is sometimes known as the Hornet mimic. (There is a very similar species called Volucella inanis but we don’t see them very often in south Wales.) Since arriving in Britain, on England’s south coast, in the 1930s, V. zonaria has made itself at home and has spread west and northwards. During July and August, I’ve seen several of these beauties at Lavernock Nature Reserve and along our local rail trail, a former railway line now a tree-lined foot- and cycling path.
With its large size and black-and-white colouring, Volucella pellucens is a very distinctive hoverfly and easy to identify. You can see why it’s also known as the Great Pied hoverfly. When it’s not feasting on pollen and nectar, it can often be found defending its airspace by hovering around head height along paths and trails. If you stand still, it will sometimes approach to check you out but, once again, it will do you absolutely no harm and move out of your way when you carry on walking.