[Syrphidae] Keeping hoverflies in captivity

Jamie Gundry jg363 at cam.ac.uk
Mon Jul 24 13:16:08 BST 2006

Dear Nico

I've kept Episyrphus balteatus and a number of Eristalis species in 
captivity reasonably successfully. You need to feed them up (honey 
dissolved in hot water then allowed to cool will do much better than sugar 
dissolved in water, I've found); keep them moist using a sprayer can of 
water every day or so but without spraying in so much water that they 
drown; and store them at about 8 celsius on a light/dark cycle typical of 

With Eristalis females this triggers their hibernation response and I've 
kept them alive for over 3 months in a few cases. It seems to prolong the 
lifetime of Episyrphus and of male Eristalis as well, though not to such an 
extreme degree. I used small plastic aquaria with any large gaps in their 
walls and lids covered with mosquito netting so that I could keep lots of 
flies separate from one another in the small coldroom space I had 

A false floor (made of mosquito netting held firmly in place with duct 
tape, and with care taken to ensure there are no gaps allowing the flies to 
penetrate below the false floor) can allow the aquaria to be suitably moist 
without the risk of the flies drowning in puddles at the bottom of the 

I was not needing to breed from my males so did not provide them with 

Incidentally, several females laid eggs into the tiny puddles that 
accumulate in the tanks (if these puddles are big enough to potentially 
drown a fly then you're spraying in too much water) and I managed to rear 
20 Eristalis pertinax adults from the eggs from one female.

I hope this helps,

Jamie Gundry, University of Cambridge.

On Jul 24 2006, Matthew SULLIVAN wrote:

>Dear Nico,
> I've kept E. balteatus in the past, and had similar experience. I suggest 
> also providing moistened cotton wool (or similar) in a small petri dish 
> for them to drink. We also provided pollen in the form of 'bee pollen' 
> which (excuse my failing memory) I think we bought from Sigma, and again 
> provided in shallow dishes. More food came in the form of unpurified 
> honey, dabbed onto a petri dish in small spots. We had longevity a little 
> better than you describe. Activity levels can be low, and we found that 
> we often had to put large groups in together to get them to behave. In 
> some work we used cages outside (shaded) and we had better activity from 
> single individuals.
>A couple of refs are:
> Golding YC, Sullivan MS, Sutherland JP (1999) Visits to manipulated 
> flowers by Episyrphus balteatus (Diptera:Syrphidae): partitioning the 
> signal of petals and anthers. Journal of Insect Behaviour, 12, 39-45.
> Sutherland JP, Sullivan MS, Poppy GM (1999) The influence of floral 
> character on the foraging behaviour of the hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus. 
> Entomologia Experimentalis et Applicata, 93, 157-164.
>Please contact me directly for any further info.
>Best wishes,
>Dr Matthew Sullivan
>Behavioural and Environmental Biology
>School of Biology, Chemistry and Health Science
>Manchester Metropolitan University
>Manchester M1 5GD, UK
>Tel +44 (0)161 247 1164
>Fax +44 (0)161 247 6325
>m.sullivan at mmu.ac.uk
>"Before acting on this email or opening any attachments you
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>>>> nico.bluethgen at web.de 24/07/2006 12:08 >>>
>Dear colleagues,
> does anyone have experience with keeping adult hoverflies happy in 
> captivity? We are currently trying to perform flower-choice experiments 
> (mostly on Episyrphus balteatus). However, most of the males and females 
> died after a few days until two weeks with a largely empty stomach * 
> although we provided large cages (2 x 2 x 1 m), many potted flowers (of 
> species which they commonly visit) and sufficient moisture (in the flower 
> pots). We tried to keep them both in cages in the field as well as in 
> climate chambers (20-22°C, 60% humidity, 16:8 h, 6000 lux), both largely 
> unsuccessful. Although some individuals sometimes collected pollen on 
> flowers, most sit on the gauze of the cage. I would be very thankful for 
> any hints and advice.
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