PICTURE - Michigan State University

QuickTime™ and a
are needed to see this picture.
QuickTi me™ and a
are needed to see thi s pi ctur e.
Photographs of Toxomerus syrphid fly egg (Bugg 2008), larva (Bugg 2008) and adult (Anna Fiedler)
Toxomerus spp.
(Diptera: Syrphidae)
By Brett Blaauw, Department of Entomology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Mi 48823
Flies in the family Syrphidae are commonly known as syrphid flies, hover flies, or flower
flies. Syrphidae is one of the most diverse families of Diptera with nearly 6000 described
species, and members which can be found on every continent across the globe, except
Antarctica. Within the family of Syphidae the subfamily Syrphinae consists of primarily
aphidophagous (consumes aphids) species of syrphids. The genus Toxomerus, in the Syphinae
subfamily, is a commonly observed syrphid genus with 16 known species found across North
Numerous adult Toxomerus spp. are considered Batesian mimics of non-palatable
models, such as stinging wasps and bees (Hymenoptera), and are frequently abundant on flowers,
which are used as mating sites and food sources. Syrphid larvae prey on aphids, scale insects,
and thrips, and are considered extremely beneficial since each larva is capable of consuming
hundreds of aphids during its development.
Syrphids in the genus Toxomerus have small, chalky white eggs that resemble a small
grain of rice. Adult females lay eggs singly on leaves, usually in or near an aphid colony.
The larvae of Toxomerus spp. can be found on aphid-infested leaves and are 4 to 5 mm
long, translucent, green to cream colored, and have a visible digestive system. The larvae also
have no eyes and are typically maggot-shaped; tapering to a point at the head end and broadly
rounded at the rear. The mouthparts of Toxomerus spp. larvae consist of a triple-pointed stylet
that is used to seize and pierce prey in order to suck them dry.
Adult Toxomerus spp. are fast and agile flyers, often seen hovering over flowers. They
are 5 to 9 mm in length and superficially resemble bees or wasps, but have a more flattened body
and only one pair of clear wings. Although the tip of the abdomen is pointed in female
Toxomerus syrphids (males have a more rounded), they do not have a stinger or chewing
mouthparts, unlike bees and wasps , so they are harmless to humans. Syrphids can be
distinguished from other flies by the presence of a spurious (i.e. “false”) vein on each wing that
runs between the radial and medial veins (Figure 1). Other physical traits common to Toxomerus
spp. adults are a brownish to yellowish scutellum (small triangular region between thorax and
abdomen) and a thin abdomen with a continuous yellow margin or alternating black and yellow
margin with dark horizontal bands extending all the way to the abdominal edges. They also have
large, often redish eyes with a v-shaped notch on the back margin of each eye.
Figure 1. Spurious vein of a syrphid fly wing.
Larvae of Toxomerus syrphids do not have legs or eyes, and are therefore confined to
plants where they were hatched, which are generally near or within colonies of their prey (e.g.
aphid colony). Syrphid adults, on the other hand, are highly mobile flyer and can be found in a
wide range of habitats. Adult Toxomerus spp. often inhabit open fields containing flowers or
transition zones between woodlands and grasslands. They have also been known to commonly
inhabit hedgerows and windbreaks within fields that contain flowering plants, which provide
shelter as well as food.
Pests Attacked
Adult Toxomerus spp. are not predaceous and mainly feed on nectar and pollen. Syrphid
fly larvae on the other hand, are voracious predators of aphids, scales, thrips, and even small
caterpillars. It has also been observed that some species in the genus Toxomerus are even able to
survive on plant tissue and sap, making them more generalists compared to most syrphid flies
that primarily feed on aphids.
Life Cycle
Line drawing of Toxomerus spp. life cycle (Brett Blaauw).
Toxomerus syrphids overwinter as late-instar larvae or pupae in the soil or in leaf litter.
Adults begin emerging in April and May and require nectar and pollen from wild flowers in
order to build up enough energy to begin mating and producing eggs (females). After mating,
female syrphids oviposit eggs on leaves near or in host (e.g. aphids) colonies, where the young
larvae will hatch and easily locate their prey. The larvae feed and grow for 7 to 10 days, and then
drop to the soil or leaf litter to pupate. The syrphid life cycle is completed in 16 to 28 days and
the adults can live up to a month, allowing for multiple generations each year. The final
generation of larvae will overwinter as either late-instars or pupae, emerging the following spring
to repeat the cycle.
Relative Effectiveness
Worldwide, predaceous syrphid larvae are an important naturally occurring control agent
of aphids and other soft-bodied pest insects in agricultural systems, and in a few cases have even
been documented as the principal aphid predator. The ability of Toxomerus spp. syrphid larvae
to effectively suppress aphids depends on variety of factors, such as climate, time of emergence,
habitat quality and the presence of flowers for pollen and nectar. Efforts to manipulate
agricultural landscapes to provide shelter with hedgerows and food from flowering plants have
been able to increase the supportive nature of agricultural systems for syrphids as well as other
beneficial insects.
Pesticide Susceptibility
Toxomerus syrphid flies are highly susceptible to broad-spectrum insecticides, especially
within the first 24 hours of insecticide application. It is recommend to avoid broad-spectrum
insecticidal control of aphid infestations if you see syrphid flies within or adjacent to fields.
Commercial Availability
Smith and Chaney (2007) have described techniques for rearing Toxomerus spp. and
other syrphids in the laboratory by collecting larvae and eggs from the field, and some species
may be amenable to commercial production. However, the only currently available hoverfly for
purchase in the United States is Episyrphus balteatus from Koppert Biological Systems.
Thanks to Anna Fiedler for suggesting this genus of syrphids and providing me with a
great photograph of a syrphid adult.
Almohamad, R., F. J. Verheggen, F. Francis, and E. Haubrudge. 2007. Predatory hoverflies
select their oviposition site according to aphid host plant and aphid species. Entomol. Exp. Appl.
125: 13-21.
Arrigon, F., M. Deconchat, J. P. Sarthou, G. Balent, and C. Monteil. 2007. Modelling the
overwintering strategy of a beneficial insect in a heterogeneous landscape using a multi-agent
system. Ecol. Model. 205: 423-436.
Bugg, R. L. 1991. Cover crops and control of arthropod pests of agriculture, pp. 157-163. In W.
L. Hargrove [ed.], Cover crops for clean water. Soil and Water Conservation Society, Jackson,
Bugg, R. L. 1992. Manipulation to enhance the effectiveness of aphidophagous hover flies
(diptera: Syrphidae). (http://www.sarep.ucdavis.edu/NEWSLTR/v5n2/sa-11.htm).
Bugg, R. L., and L. T. Wilson. 1989. Ammi visnaga (l.) lamarck (apiaceae): Associated
beneficial insects and implications for biological control, with emphasis on the bell-pepper
agroecosystem. Bio. Ag. and Hort.. 6: 241-268.
Bugg, R. L., R. Colfer, W. E. Chaney, H. A. Smith, and J. Cannon. 2008. Flower flies
(syrphidae) and other biological control agents for aphids in vegetable crops. Agirculture and
Natural Resources Publication. 8285.
Chaney, W. E. 2004. Insectary plants for vegetable crops, pp. 53-54. In M. Hodle [ed.],
Proceedings of the California conference on biologicaal control iv. UCDANR, Davis, California.
Coin, P. 2008. Genus Toxomerus. (http://bugguide.net/node/view/3277).
Colfer, R. 2004. Using habitat management to improve biological control on commercial
organic farms in california, pp. 55-62. In M. Hodle [ed.], Proceedings of thecalifornia conference
on biologicaal control iv. UCDANR, Davis, California.
Colley, M. R., and J. M. Luna. 2000. Relative attractiveness of potential beneficial insectary
plants to aphidophagous hoverflies (diptera: Syrphidae). Environ. Entomol. 29: 1054-1059.
Deans, A. M., S. M. Smith, J. R. Malcolm, W. J. Crins, and M. I. Bellocq. 2007. Hoverfly
(syrphidae) communities respond to varying structural retention after harvesting in canadian
peatland black spruce forests. Environ. Entomol. 36: 308-318.
Ferrar, P. 1987. A guide to the breeding habits and immature stages of diptera cyclorrhapha.
Scandinavian Science Press, Copenhagen.
Flint, M. L., and S. H. Dreistadt. 1998. Natural enemies handbook: The illustrated guide to
biological pest control. University of California Press, Berkley.
Hendrickx, F., J. P. Maelfait, W. V. Wingerden, O. Schweiger, M. Speelmans, S. Aviron, I.
Augenstein, R. Billeter, D. Bailey, R. Buckacek, F. Burel, T. Diekotter, J. Dirksen, F.
Herzog, J. Liira, M. Roubalova, V. Vandomme, and R. Bugter. 2007. How landscape
structure, land-use intensity and habitat diversity affect components of total arthropod diversity
in agricultural landscapes. J. Appl. Ecol. 44: 340-351.
Jansen, J. P. 2000. A three-year field study on the short-term effects of insecticides used to
control cereal aphids on plant-dwelling aphid predators in winter wheat. Pest Manag. Sci. 56:
Kaiser, M. E., T. Noma, M. J. Brewer, K. S. Pike, J. R. Vockeroth, and S. D. Gaimari. 2007.
Hymenopteran parasitoids and dipteran predators found using soybean aphid after its midwestern
united states invasion. Ann. Ent. Soc. America. 100: 196-205.
Koppert, B. V. 2009. Syrphidend - koppert biological control natural pollination.
Luna, J. M., and P. Jepson. 2001. Enhancement of biological control with insectary plantings. ,
Organic Farming Research Foundation Project Report. Dept. of Horticulture, Oregon State
University, Corvallis, Oregon.
Markova, E., and E. Ljubenova. 1998. Influence of the synthetic pyrethroid insecticide alphacypermethrin on the structure of the syrphid coenosis (syrphidae, diptera) in a potato ecosystem.
J. Appl. Entomol. 122: 469-473.
Schmidt, M. H., U. Thewes, C. Thies, and T. Tschamtke. 2004. Aphid suppression by natural
enemies in mulched cereals. Entomol. Exp. Appl. 113: 87-93.
Schmidt, N. P., M. E. O'Neal, and P. M. Dixon. 2008. Aphidophagous predators in Iowa
soybean: A community comparison across multiple years and sampling methods. Ann. Ent. Soc.
America. 101: 341-350.
Schneider, E. 1969. Bionomics and physiology of aphidophagous syrphidae. Annu. Rev.
Entomol. 14: 103-123.
Smith, H. A., and W. E. Chaney. 2007. A survey of syrphid predators of Nasonovia ribisnigri
in organic lettuce on the central coast of california. J. Econ. Entomol. 100: 39-48.
Smith, H. A., W. E. Chaney, and T. A. Bensen. 2008. Role of syrphid larvae and other
predators in suppressing aphid infestations in organic lettuce on california's central coast. J.
Econ. Entomol. 101: 1526-1532.
Steinkraus, D. C., and J. P. Kramer. 1987. Susceptibility of sixteen species of diptera to the
fungal Pathogenentomophthora muscae (Zygomycetes: Entomophthoraceae). Mycopathologia.
100: 55-63.
Tooker, J. F., M. Hauser, and L. M. Hanks. 2006. Floral host plants of syrphidae and
tachinidae (diptera) of central illinois. Ann. Ent. Soc. America. 99: 96-112.
Van Emden, H. F. 1966. The effectiveness of aphidophagous insects in reducing aphid
populations. In I. Hodek [ed.], Ecology of aphidophagous insects. Academia, Prague.
Weems, H. V., Jr. 1954. Natural enemies and insecticides that are detrimental to beneficial
syrphidae. The Ohio Journal of Science. 54: 45-54.