Hoverflies of Britain and NW Europe_cover

Diptera Publications

Sander Bot & Frank Van de Meutter

Bloomsbury Wildlife


ISBN: 9781399402453

Reviewed by Richard Jones

Hoverflies are the perfect stepping-stone insect group — trickier than butterflies and dragonflies, but not so devilish as fleas or flea beetles. They are relatively large, active, abundant, diverse, often bright, and frequently lauded as pollinators, scavenging recyclers, and aphid predators. There are enough big showy species to capture the attention through a camera, but plenty of more challenging groups to pore over down the microscope. There is an active recording scheme and several online forums to spread the word. And this book adds an excellent meaty layer of information to the pie.

The most striking thing about the book is its detail and comprehensiveness. Those cop-out words “there are many very similar species which might key out here” do not occur. Instead, nearly 400 species are identified, and given full and complete commentary. This is the complex fauna of Britain, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, Luxembourg, The Netherlands and parts of western Germany and northern France. In order to achieve this level of diagnosis, the photographs of the book’s title are not of living flies photographed in nature, but of carefully prepared museum specimens, and instead of thumbnail sketches of the, often, obscure identification characters, close-ups of legs, heads, antennae and genitalia punctuate it throughout.

Despite its relatively technical content, the book is clearly aimed at the general naturalist/ entomologist wanting to delve deeper into these fascinating flies. The writing is clear and readable, the layout is uncluttered and the format is simple. In a very modern move to attract a less specialist readership (and maybe also to seem less elitist) large-type English names are given ahead of the subservient scientific names. But the book is also enough to be a definitive guide for the specialist, with very detailed descriptions and ecological information on all species. That the authors will not shy away from difficult groups is clearly shown in the occasional break from the standard three-per-page format to two, where extra, more nuanced, description and additional close-up photographs of difficult-to-see characters are necessary. I really enjoyed a morning working through some recent specimens, and it did not take me long to get used to a key layout new to me. I took a couple of initial wrong turns in the long blacklet (Cheilosia) section, but soon found my way back on track. Of course, every time the key approached some non-British species, that tantalising thought “could this work out to something new” sprung up in my mind but, no, they were all regulars. I’m not giving up hope though. There is plenty of scope to spot potential newcomers and from now on I shall be capturing and examining every single conopid I see, in the hope that it is one of the astonishing wasp flies (Ceriana/Sphiximorpha) that look almost identical.