Hornet imitator (Volucella zonaria)
This is our largest Hover-fly Volucella zonaria and quite a whopper it is too at about 2cm in length. It’s a mimic of the hornet Vespa crabro. The female uses this disguise in order to lay eggs in the hornet’s nest, the parasitic offspring then feed on the victim’s larvae. They’re not exactly common but easy enough to identify by their large size. As you can see it has a mainly orangey-yellow abdomen with dark bands, a yellow bottom and an almost varnished mahogany look to the thorax. And just look at those huge brown eyes and that big pointed yellow face. Once you’ve seen one they’re pretty unmistakeable.
It’s mainly found in wooded areas. I came across this one in the dappled shade of the wooded section of the very picturesque coastal path that meanders over the cliffs between Beer and Branscombe in Devon. It was a tricky shot to obtain as just beyond this bramble patch is a sheer drop to the beach below and this little imitator kept moving just one leaf further out into the void. Fortunately my friend Henry was with me and was ready to grab my camera if I suddenly disappeared.
As recently as the 1940s it was a rare summer visitor, but now it is quite regularly seen in the south of the country and is slowly spreading northwards. I’d never got close enough to photograph one before I took this photo on the 29 July but I had seen one a week earlier during a walk around Shearwater Lake near Longleat House. Since then I’ve seen another in my back garden on the 12 August. See photo below.