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Yellow and black insects flying around

By John Fulton

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[October 02, 2008]  Many people are commenting about the yellow and black "sweat bees" flying around everywhere the last week. The yellow and black insects that are commonly called sweat bees are actually syrphid flies.

Syrphid fly is a generic name given to an entire group of flies. There are some differences in appearance and color, but the yellow and black color is the major one in our area. The other names for syrphid flies are hover flies or flower flies. They tend to hover around your arms and face when you have been perspiring, and they land to lap up the sweat. They are also commonly found on flowers -- hence the flower fly name -- and they do a good job of pollinating.

Syrphid flies are actually beneficial insects. They help pollinate; larvae feed on dead organic matter; and the larvae are predators of aphids. They cannot sting, but their mouthparts can usually be felt when lapping up sweat from sensitive areas. You may feel a slight pinch.

Yellow jackets are the other common yellow and black insect this time of year. Yellow jackets can be very aggressive in biting and stinging. They are usually about twice the size of the syrphid flies, and the easiest way to tell them apart (without getting stung) is to count the wings. Flies have one pair, and bees and wasps have two pairs.


Yellow jackets are most frequently encountered when they scavenge for food. Their habit of feeding on nectar and sugar can create a nuisance. Yellow jackets are attracted to open cups and cans of soda and other sweet liquids. They are also attracted to open cans of garbage, bright flowery clothing and floral-scented perfumes. All outside garbage cans must be kept clean and well-covered to reduce yellow jacket problems. Contact with the wasps can be decreased by reducing these attractions at picnics and other outings. In situations closer to home, the elimination of overripe fruit from gardens and orchards will dramatically decrease the number of scavenging yellow jackets. Having gatherings indoors and using screens on windows will also help avoid yellow jacket problems.

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As for the syrphid flies, no controls are going to be very effective. On the other hand, there really isn't much need for control. They're a nuisance pest. They are very agile and will probably be able to avoid that aerosol spray. Inside the home, a swatter and a vacuum cleaner are probably the best tools.

Mushrooms and toadstools

A common complaint this year has been the large amount of mushrooms and toadstools coming up in lawns. To begin with, these are in the decay fungi group. They are decaying old tree roots or lumber under the surface. This means there is no ready control for them, other than removing the material to be decayed.

The best, and only, thing to do is physically remove them by raking, mowing or picking. The spores grow when weather and temperature conditions are just right, so you usually won't have them continuously, rather on an occasional basis.

[By JOHN FULTON, University of Illinois Extension, Logan County]



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