Was Linnaeus having some sort of joke when he named this elegant and handsome hoverfly Volucella inanis? The ‘inane’ hoverfly? The ’empty’ hoverfly?
Perhaps we’ll never know. It is, though, one of the more striking and unusual insects I regularly find in the garden; along with the, if it is possible, even more striking and significantly larger Volucella zonaria.
Both are massive orange and black hornet mimics, both breed in wasp nests, the fat grubs eating the wasp brood in the paper combs, and both are relatively restricted in the UK.
It used to be that zonaria was the rarest. In Verrall’s 1901 monograph on hoverflies only a couple of presumed stragglers were known in Britain, but since a spate of sightings in the 1940s it has become firmly established here and is still spreading through England from Kent to Bristol. On the other hand inanis has always been a London fly and remains almost unknown outside the metropolis’s suburbs.
We get both in the garden, and although zonaria is the one that gets comments from the family because of its imposing size and soft low buzz, inanis, the empty hoverfly, is the one that fills me with delight.