18 Flies That Look Like Wasps (with Pictures)

Have you been sitting in the backyard and has what you thought was a wasp bothered you? Did you know that there are a number of flies that are great impressionists, looking just like a wasp or bee? They can cause unnecessary fear.

Are There Flies That Look Like Wasps?

There are a number of flies in the United States that could be confused with wasps and bees. These are flies include:

  • Hoverflies from the Syrphidae family
  • Thick headed flies from the Conopidae family
  • Soldier flies from the Stratiomyidae family

Continue reading to find a list of flies that look like wasps in the United States, helping you identify them with ease.

Why Do Some Flies Mimic Wasps?

These flies look like wasps to put off any potential predators. The striped coloration of black and yellow helps them fit the wasp description. It also misleads their predators into believing that they can pack a powerful and paralyzing sting.

18 Flies That Look Like Wasps

The 18 flies that look like wasps include:

1. Margined Calligrapher

Margined Calligrapher

The margined calligrapher (Toxomerus Marginatus) is a common hoverfly, found throughout North America. Adults feed on a range of flowers, while their larvae feed on aphids, small caterpillars, and thrips.

These hoverflies grow to around 6mm in body length and can be found in forests, meadows, prairies, deserts, alpine areas, stream margins, bogs, and more. They are adaptable and can be found in just about any habitat.

2. Physocephala furcillata

Physocephala furcillata

This thick-headed fly (Physocephala furcillata) can grow to 12mm in body length. They are black in color with light bronze and red/brown overtones. The top of the head is black with a white to yellow colored face and black cheeks.

Their black antenna is shorter than other species with segments one to three being red-black on the underside. The forward edge of the wing is a light brown and they have red to brown colored legs.

Abdomens are black with light red/brown on the base of segment three. The other segments have white to yellow colorations at the ends. They are more common from July to August and can be found from Canada to California.

The adults feed on the nectar of flowers with larvae being parasitoids of wasps and bees. They have a striking resemblance to wasps.

3. Garden Soldier Fly

Garden soldier fly

Garden soldier flies (Exaireta Spinigera) are native to Australia and were established in North America. They grow to 14mm in body length and feed off decaying organic matter.

Often seen in gardens, they do make their way into homes. Adults feed on nectar and pollen, while larvae feed on decaying matter, usually seen in compost heaps.

4. Oblique Streaktail

Oblique streaktail

The oblique streaktail (Allograpta Obliqua) is a small and quiet fly that visits flowers, mimicking wasps and bees.

These flies have red eyes and short antennae, helping you differentiate them from wasps. They have yellow and black banding and tend to hover, making them look very much like a wasp.

They have a long and flat abdomen, bending downward. Females abdomens taper to a point, while males have a squared tip. Both have two rows of yellow dashes on the outer edges and two vertical dashes right between them.

The adults feed on pollen and nectar from flowers, while females lay their fertilized eggs near aphids. Eggs lay within a week of being laid as worm-like maggots. They feed on aphids that share the same plant.

They are common from summer to early fall in Kansas, July in Minnesota, and May to December in North Carolina. They are also seen throughout the year in Florida.

5. Common Eastern Physocephala

Common Eastern Physocephala

The common Eastern physocephala (Physocephala Tibialis) is a thick-headed fly found throughout the Eastern United States. They are usually observed close to flowering plants. Adults are black with yellow faces and thin white stripes on their abdomens.

They are parasitoids of many bees, by laying their eggs inside the bee abdomen. The larva hatches inside the host, growing and developing while taking over most of the host’s abdomen. This causes the host to die and the larvae to hide within the corpse.

They are common in North America, mostly on the east coast. They are observed from Florida to Massachusetts and Texas and Wisconsin. They are usually seen near flowering plants with no preference for any particular flower.

The common Eastern pysocephala larva is white and swollen on hatching. It goes through their molts to reach adult size, which is about 60mm in length. Adults have an almost black abdomen with pale tarsal segments on their legs. Think stripes of white are seen on the abdominal segments.

6. Common Drone Fly

Common drone fly

Common drone flies (Eristalis Tenax) are migratory and cosmopolitan hoverflies. They have the widest syrphid species distribution throughout the world. The only place they are not found in the Antarctic and were introduced to North America, where they are widely established.

The larvae of this drone fly are red-tailed. In North America, you can find them as far north as Alaska right down to Florida and California. They are large and stocky, looking similar to a wasp or bee. They have marbled black eyes and males tend to hover.

They can grow to 13mm in body length with a 15mm wingspan. Their appearance can vary with their abdomen ranging from orange to brown. They have black areas down their abdomen, which absorb solar radiation, helping to keep them warm.

The male common drone fly is very territorial during the summer months, where they guard their territories to improve the chances of mating. They will hover motionless and dart at intruders, chasing them out of the territory they have claimed.

7. Physocephala burgessi

Physocephala burgessi

This is a thick-headed fly species that visits flowers during the day. They are brick red in color with a single black stripe on the thoracic dorsum. They have dark red cheeks and short antennas.

They seem to prefer flowing plants where there are numerous bees, which they use to insert their eggs.  They are often seen flying from one flower to the next. They are nervous flies and tend to move away if approached.

8. Spilomyia longicornis

Spilomyia longicomis

The spilomyia longicomis is a hoverfly, belonging to the Syrphidae family. They look similar to wasps, but cannot sting. They are common in North America, usually east of the Rocky Mountains.

These hoverflies grow to 15mm in body length and are black and yellow with clear wings. Their back four legs are yellow with the front two being yellow at the base and black at the end.  They are commonly found around pollen-producing flowers, which they feed on.

They are commonly found in rotting holes in trees, which provide food and protection for larvae. They are known to mimic yellowjackets and are more common in deciduous forests.

9. Maize Calligrapher

Maize calligrapher

The maize calligrapher (Toxomerus Politus) is a hoverfly species, common in North America. It is associated with corn. As adults, they feed on pollen and nectar and are important pollinators to our environment.

The larvae feed on aphids and can consume four hundred aphids before they become adults. Aphids cause damage to plants, making the maize calligrapher larvae excellent at saving crops.

These flies are found in a variety of habits and are more common in tropical and temperate climates.

10. Physocephala marginata

Physocephala marginata
Physocephala marginata

This thick-headed fly looks very similar to a thin-waisted wasp. They are mostly black with touches of white/ivory, lighter-colored legs, and wings.

Male flies are reported to fly to certain hilltops in North American regions, where they wait for females to mate with, known as hill-topping. Adults feed on the pollen and nectar of plants

11. Thick-legged Hover Fly

Thick-legged hoverfly

The thick-legged hoverfly (Syritta Pipiens) is one of the most common Syrphidae family species, originating from Europe and distributed throughout Europe and North America. They are fast fliers, commonly found near human homes, gardens, parks, and farmlands where there are flowers.

They are critical pollinators and an essential part of the ecosystem. They are also excellent biological control agents against aphid pests. They were first introduced to North America in the 1800s.

This is a cosmopolitan species where they feed on flowers, so they can be found anywhere where flowers are abundant. They are most common from April to mid-October. Larvae are typically found close to freshwaters such as ponds, ditches rivers, and lakes.

12. Four-speckled Hover Fly

Four-speckled hoverfly

The four speckled hoverflies (Dioprosopa Clavata) are a small dark brown to almost black fly that grows to half an inch in length. They have elongated abdomens with females having a point at the end. They have clear wings with dark brown edging.

They have yellow and dark brown legs and four white spots, two on either side of the abdomen. These flies can grow to 12.4mm body length and 8.8mm in wingspan. They are common from Kansas to California, along with Argentina and Chile.

13. Dusky-winged Hover Fly

Dusky winged hoverfly

The dusky winged hoverfly (Ocyptamus Fuscipennis) looks similar to a thread-waisted wasp as they levitate with their wings blurring with dark spots. These small wasps have long abdomens and when resting you can see the dark transparent wings and orange and black abdomen.

They cannot bite or sting and are often observed hovering above flowers in fields, gardens, or containers. It’s not uncommon to see a number of dusky winged hoverflies inspecting the same plant.

14. Physocephala sagittaria

Physocephala sagittaria

This fly varies in color from dark brown to black or red with black markings. The first four abdominal segments have thin yellow bands. Some range from yellow-brown to red or black. They can be found from North Dakota to New Mexico and Florida to Massachusetts.

15. Black Soldier Fly

Black Soldier Fly

Black soldier flies (Hermetia Illucens) can be found almost everywhere in the world. They grow to 16mm in body length and are medium-sized and mostly black in color.

They have metallic reflections which range from green to blue on the thorax and some red on the abdomen. Their antennae are double the length of their heads.

These mimic flies are similar in appearance to the mud dauber wasps.

16. Physocephala texana

Physocephala texana
Physocephala texana. Image by Ross Peters via inaturalist

This thick-headed fly belongs to the Conopidae family and is a variable species, which is usually mostly red with a black thorax. The abdominal segments are dusted in yellow with yellow dusting and black spots on the distal tergites of the abdomen.

The upper head is red/brown and can vary in darkness, sometimes with hints of yellow. They have pale yellow cheeks with reddish legs. These flies are common from British Columbia to Quebec and as far south as Mexico.

17. Twin-Spot Centurion Fly

Twin spotted centurion fly

The twin spotted centurion fly (Sargus Bipunctatus) is a European soldier fly that can grow to 14mm in body length. They have metallic green mesonotum and a brown abdomen with a violet tinge.

Males are more slender than females. Females have red and black abdomens with blue reflections.

The wings are yellow, the legs are red and the tarsi are brown at the apex. These wasp mimicking flies are common in wooded and open habitats, mostly from July to November.

18. Eastern Calligrapher

Eastern Calligrapher

Eastern calligraphers are hoverflies that are common from Texas north to eastern Canada. They are beneficial as they prey on plant attacking insects. They are common small flies that are also known as flower flies.

The adults can grow to 7.6mm in body length and resemble a wasp in color with white on the back of the head and two large compound eyes, one on either side of the head.  They have yellow short antennae.

The thorax is covered in an exoskeletal plate. The forward portion is black/brown with faint yellow stripes.

There are no hairs, but a yellow spot can be seen on the side of the thorax, just about the first segment.

Their abdomens are black and yellow with the end of the third abdominal segment being almost black. The tip of the abdomen is pointed in females and rounded in males.

They inhabit a range of habitats from marshes and bogs to forests, savannas, and fields.

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