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Black-tailed Bee Fly (Bombylius major)

Detailing the physical features, habits, territorial reach and other identifying qualities of the Black-tailed Bee Fly

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Image Credit: Matt H.
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Image Credit: Paul M., taken at the Finley National Wildlife Refuge, OR
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The Black-tailed Bee Fly is disguised as a fuzzy stinging bee, giving it time for tranquil visits to flowers and drink the nectar.

Updated: 05/01/2024; Authored By Staff Writer; Content ©www.InsectIdentification.org
The Black-tailed Bee Fly is a hairy, hovering, and buzzing mimic of a bumble bee. The yellow body and legs are colors that typically warn off predators that do not want to deal with a stinger. This is a fly, though, so it does not have a stinger. The long proboscis ('tongue') quickly gives away its true identity. Bee Flies also have long, thin legs that lack pollen baskets. They also lack fuzzy legs typically found on the hind legs of honeybees and bumble bees.

Adults drink flower nectar and are fond of lilac and plum flowers. Larvae have a more nefarious diet. Female Black-tailed Bee Fly lays her fertilized eggs in the ground nests of certain solitary bee species. The Black-tailed Bee Fly larvae hatch and eat the larvae of the resident bees, making them parasites. Once they eat the competition, they go on to eat any food stores left by their mother. They will then pupate in that nest and eventually emerge as adults in the summer.

This species is most active in the summer on sunny days. They can be found in open fields, backyards and parks, either resting on plants or buzzing over blossoms. They are able to hover over the flowers they drink from, much like a hummingbird. Males will often hover over flowers while waiting for a female to pass by. Males then dart after the female in the hope of mating with her. While observers can get close, the Black-tailed Bee Fly is quite aware of its surroundings and can bolt away so quickly, they are difficult to catch.©InsectIdentification.org

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General Characteristics

Capability, Shape, Texture/Pattern, Benefits, Dangers
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Taxonomic Hierarchy

Species Breakdown
Kingdom: Animalia
  Phylum: Arthropoda
    Class: Insecta
      Order: Diptera
        Family: Bombylidae
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          Genus: Bombylius
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            Species: major

Identifying Information

Size, Colors, Features
Scientific Name: Bombylius major
Category: Fly or Mosquito
Size (Adult; Length): 12mm to 16mm (0.47" to 0.62")
Colorwheel Graphic Colors: yellow; black; white; brown
Descriptors: fuzzy; bumble; hairy; flying; tongue; leg; hover

Relative Size Comparison

Typical Size Between 12mm (0.5in) and 16mm (0.6in)
Lo: 12mm
Md: 14mm
Hi: 16mm

Territorial Map*

U.S., Canada, and Mexico
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Prince Edward Is.  
* MAP NOTES: The territorial heat map above showcases (in red) the states and territories of North America where the Black-tailed Bee Fly may be found (but is not limited to). This sort of data is useful when attempting to see concentrations of particular species across the continent as well as revealing possible migratory patterns over a species' given lifespan. Some insects are naturally confined by environment, weather, mating habits, food resources and the like while others see widespread expansion across most, or all, of North America. States/Territories shown above are a general indicator of areas inhabited by the Black-tailed Bee Fly. Insects generally go where they please, typically driven by diet, environmental changes, and / or mating habits.
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