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Beneficial Bug: The Hover Fly

Familiar garden predators like ladybugs and praying mantises often get all the credit for controlling bad bugs. Check out what this largely unsung backyard hero can do.

What's not to like about an insect that eats harmful garden bugs and pollinates flowers?

When it's young, the hover fly feeds voraciously on soft-bodied insects like aphids, scale, thrips and caterpillars. The adult feeds on nectar and, in so doing, inadvertently moves pollen from flower to flower. As colony collapse disorder continues to decimate large numbers of honeybees, the hover fly has stepped up in importance as a backup pollinator.

This critter resembles a small bee, but it's a bona fide member of the fly family. It doesn't sting. Like flies, it has two wings rather than four. But unlike many other insects, it executes telltale aerial maneuvers: it can suspend flight in mid-air, then dart quickly backward, forward or sideways.

In spring you can often find the young adults visiting flowers and foliage. Avoid using pesticides — even insecticidal soaps — and you'll likely see more. It's good to have this insect patrolling your garden. As a significant pollinator and bad-bug eater, the hover fly is an especially good friend to anyone who grows vegetables and fruits.

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