Hover Fly vs Sweat Bee: What are the Differences?

Written by Taiwo Victor
Updated: October 30, 2023
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If you spend a lot of time outside in the summer heat, you’ll almost certainly encounter sweat bees, hover flies, or both. These are true pester bugs, and some people confuse them for each other. Yet, they are more opposite than apples and oranges, but neither bears any fatal venom. As their names suggest, hover flies are flies, and sweat bees are bees. That alone gives us a new perspective on how distinct these two species are. But, aside from classification, what are the other differences between hover fly vs sweat bee? Below, we will explore the fundamental aspects that set the two creatures apart.

Comparing a Hover Fly and a Sweat Bee

A hover fly differs from a sweat bee in appearance, sting, and diet.
HoverflySweat Bee
Appearance– about a quarter of an inch long, typically yellow and black banded with prominent dark eyes – exceedingly small bees, averaging maybe a quarter-inch long 
Number of Wings– two– four
Diet– salty sweat is a special treat for them – craves salty sweat when available
Sting– Hover flies do not possess stingers – thus, they cannot sting – in the butt region, female sweat bees possess a stinger
Behavior– generally solitary, however large groups have been seen during foraging or short excursions.– some are solitary, while others are said to be eusocial, which means a small colony of them may live in and work from the same nest.

Why is it Called a Sweat Bee?

Sweat bees derive their name from their peculiar attraction to perspiration, specifically drawn to the moisture and salts it offers.

While some of these bees are solitary, others exhibit varying degrees of social behavior, making the world of sweat bees a fascinating mix of solitary and communal lifestyles.

Halictidae, belonging to the order Hymenoptera, represent one of the six bee families. These bees, commonly referred to as sweat bees, encompass a highly diverse group, featuring both metallic and non-metallic varieties.

In terms of population, they often outnumber many other bee families, second only to the Apis species, which includes honey bees.

The 5 Key Differences Between a Hoverfly and a Sweat Bee

The main differences between a hover fly and a sweat bee include their appearance, number of wings, diet, sting, and behavior. While both may evoke alarm in people, they are vital to our environment as they make fantastic pollinators.

Hover flies go by several other names, including corn flies and drone flies. They are abundant in gardens around the country, especially when aphids are present. The female produces tiny, creamy-white eggs amid aphid colonies, and as soon as they hatch, the beneficial larvae feast on the aphids. Sweat bees are bee species that reside in underground nests. A few colonies aren’t a big issue, but if the bees build multiple nests in the same spot, you should take action to control them. These two animals couldn’t be more dissimilar, and we’ll go through each of their differences in detail.

Hover Fly vs Sweat Bee: Appearance

Frequently mistaken for sweat bees, hover flies are actually vivid yellow and black.

©Johan van Beilen/Shutterstock.com

Hover flies are vivid yellow and black and are frequently mistaken for sweat bees. However, these are flies, not bees. They have a hairless body and brighter colored abdomens compared to sweat bees. Like most other creatures, we fear anything black or yellow. Hover flies take advantage of our taught reaction by imitating the feared stinging insects. They are about a quarter of an inch long, with prominent dark eyes and look like yellow jacket wasps, but hover flies are way smaller.

Sweat bees’ heads and thorax are often metallic in color. They are exceedingly small bees, measuring maybe a quarter-inch long. They are often referred to as “baby bees” because of their diminutive size. Here’s a thought: there is no such thing as babies or juveniles for bees, wasps, or flies. They only go through four stages of development: egg, larva, pupa, and adult. 

Hover Fly vs Sweat Bee: Number of Wings

Sweat bees have two pairs of translucent wings.

©Barbara Storms/Shutterstock.com

There is an adage: two wings fun; four wings run.

If you look closely at hover flies, you will see that they have only two wings. It indicates that they belong to the fly family. They can also “hover” or appear suspended in mid-air and can move in any direction with great agility. Wasps and bees, on the other hand, cannot.

The sweat bee has two pairs of translucent wings like other bees and wasps. These wings appear when they reach adulthood, and at this point, they are about as big as they are going to get.

Hover Fly vs Sweat Bee: Diet

Hover flies are attracted to humans because of the salt in our sweat. They eat pollen too, but our salty perspiration seems to be a unique delicacy for them. The worst part about these hover flies is that they may sometimes congregate in a random arrangement in front of your eyes, waiting for a drop of sweat. They aren’t going to hurt you, but they will surely annoy you.

Sweat bees assist us by pollinating in large numbers as pollen and plant nectar are their primary sources of nutrition. However, there is a drawback. The diet of these bees is low in salt, and they crave it when it is available. The sweat that dampens a human’s skin while we are active outside in the summer heat is rich in salt, which attracts the aptly named sweat bees like a magnet. 

Hover Fly vs Sweat Bee: Sting

A saving grace is that hover flies do not have any stinger equipment or any venom that they can inject into us. They lap at our sweat, but they cannot sting, bite, or harm us in any other way. A slap at the tickle source would not get you a painful, defensive injection.

If the sweat bee is a female and is suddenly confined or crushed, she can eject a tiny stinger and inject the smallest amount of venom. It doesn’t have a lot of punch, but it can be risky depending on how a person reacts to it. Although the sting of a sweat bee does not compare to a wasp or even a honeybee sting, you should avoid it if possible. 

Hover Fly vs Sweat Bee: Behavior 

Hover flies are usually solitary, but large groups sometimes gather during foraging or short excursions.

Some sweat bee species are solitary, with each female building her own nest in a small hole in the ground. Other species are social, which means they can live in and work from the same nest as a small colony. Some colony-dwelling sweat bees are said to guard their nests, possibly stinging intruders.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © Muddy knees/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

For six years, I have worked as a professional writer and editor for books, blogs, and websites, with a particular focus on animals, tech, and finance. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games with friends.

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