ISSN 1911-2173

Key to the Genera of Nearctic Syrphidae

G.F.G. Miranda1,2*

A.D. Young1

M.M. Locke3,4

S.A. Marshall1

J.H. Skevington3,4

F.C. Thompson5

1 Insect Systematics Laboratory, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada.
2 Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, Manaus, AM, Brazil / Museu da Amazônia, Manaus, AM, Brazil.
3 Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, ON, Canada.
4Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada.
5 Department of Entomology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, U.S.A.
*Corresponding Author.

Key to the Genera of Nearctic Syrphidae

Key to the Genera of Nearctic Syrphidae

G.F.G. Miranda1,2*

A.D. Young1

M.M. Locke3,4

S.A. Marshall1

J.H. Skevington3,4

F.C. Thompson5

1 Insect Systematics Laboratory, School of Environmental Sciences, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada.
2 Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, Manaus, AM, Brazil / Museu da Amazônia, Manaus, AM, Brazil.
3 Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, Ottawa, ON, Canada.
4Department of Biology, Carleton University, Ottawa, ON, Canada.
5 Department of Entomology, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC, U.S.A.
*Corresponding Author.


Representatives of the conspicuous and diverse family Syrphidae are found worldwide, and adults of many species are of considerable economic importance as pollinators. Due to their relatively large size, frequently colourful appearance and conspicuous habits, most syrphid genera are readily identifiable in the field with the help of proper identification tools. We have developed an interactive photographic key that is intuitive to use yet comprehensive, covering all genera of Syrphidae in the Nearctic Region. Every page is fully illustrated, with accompanying text designed to highlight important characters. The key provides the most current classification for the family and adds 15 genera and subgenera not previously recorded or recognized for the region. Several species in the genera Chrysotoxum Meigen 1803, Dasysyrphus Enderlein 1938, Leucozona Schiner 1860, Platycheirus Lepeletier & Serville 1828 and Volucella Geoffroy 1762 are resurrected from synonymy. Two new synonyms are proposed: Ferdinandea dives (Osten Sacken 1877) and F. nigripes (Osten Sacken 1877) are proposed as new synonyms of F. buccata (Loew 1863).

Doros aequalis - Photo by S.A. Marshall


The family Syrphidae (flower flies, hover flies), with almost 6,000 world species and 812 continental Canadian and US species (Tables 1, 2 and 3), is one of the largest fly families. Syrphids are among the most beneficial insects because of their enormous importance as pollinators (Kearns 1992; Kevan 2002; Larson et al. 2001; Ssymank 2008) and because of the major role of predaceous species in natural and biological control of pest aphids and other Sternorrhyncha (Belliure and Michaud 2001; Mengual and Thompson 2011; Rojo et al. 2003; Rotheray 1989). They also play an increasingly recognized role in other ecosystem services such as composting and environmental assessment (Larde 1989; Sommagio 1999; Thompson et al. 2010). Flower flies warrant attention not only because of their impressive diversity and economic importance, but also for their conspicuous habits and frequently eye-catching appearance. Many are astonishingly close mimics of aculeate Hymenoptera and, in general, syrphids are useful models for a variety of ecological research (e.g. Bartsch 2009a, 2009b; Gilbert 2005a, 2005b; Gittings et al. 2006; Marinoni et al. 2004; Montoya et al. 2012; Penney et al. 2012). It is for all of these reasons that there is currently a great deal of interest in Syrphidae amongst photographers, naturalists and professional biologists, all of whom share a common need to correctly and efficiently identify flower flies at least to the generic level. This need was previously met in the Nearctic region with the generic key of Vockeroth and Thompson (1987) (now freely available on line at Vockeroth & Thompson (1987), however, were limited by the constraints of black and white publication in a printed form even though the taxa keyed are characterized by distinct and diverse colour and form.

Those constraints are now lifted, in part thanks to new technology for capturing colour images in the lab and in the field, and in part thanks to new avenues for digital publication. The key presented here takes full advantage of these new opportunities to provide an easier, more accessible method for generic identification of Nearctic Syrphidae.

The work presented here is not simply a repackaging of Vockeroth and Thompson (1987) in a photographic, digital format. Although many couplets do follow previous keys (Stubbs and Falk 1983; Thompson 1972; Vockeroth 1992; Vockeroth and Thompson 1987), there are many new couplets as well as some key components that would not have been possible without the colour/digital format. Furthermore, traditional key characters that have been widely considered difficult to interpret are newly “translated” with detailed, high-resolution photographs that render them easily understood.

Although the current key runs only to the generic level, it is hoped that this paper will be seen as a framework on which to add species reviews and keys in a modular fashion. Such species treatments, although independent papers, could be easily linked from the generic key, rendering the key an effective portal to further levels of information about Syrphidae. The generic pages are already linked to related web pages, such as the Encyclopedia of Life, as appropriate.

There have been some significant changes to our understanding of the Nearctic syrphid fauna since 1987, and these changes are incorporated in this key. Twenty-three of the 121 generic level taxa (Tables 1, 2 and 3) in the current key were not included in Vockeroth and Thompson (1987), and four of the genera included in Vockeroth and Thompson (1987) do not appear in this key since they are now treated as part of other genera or were never confirmed to be present in the Nearctic region (Table 4). We follow the syrphid classification and distribution in Systema Dipterorum (Thompson 2010) with a few exceptions. Because there is as yet no general agreement about the definitions and limits of many syrphid tribes, we refrain from adopting any tribal classification in our work (Tables 1, 2 and 3). These and other taxonomic and classification decisions are outlined in the ‘Results and Discussion’ section below.

Table 4:  Genera or subgenera added to or subtracted from the Nearctic syrphid fauna since Vockeroth and Thompson (1987)

Additional taxa:

Alipumilio Shannon 1927
Chrysosyrphus Sedman 1965
Eosalpingogaster Hull 1949 (previously a subgenus of Salpingogaster Schiner 1868)
Epistrophella Dusek & Laska 1967 (previously a subgenus of Epistrophe Walker 1852)
Eristalinus (Eristalodes) Mik 1897
Eristalinus (Lathyrophthalmus) Mik 1897 (previously considered as the subgenus E. (Eristalinus) Rondani 1845)
Eupeodes (Metasyrphus) Matsumura 1917
Fazia Shannon 1927
Heringia (Neocnemodon) Goffe 1944
Hybobathus Enderlein 1938 (previously treated as Ocyptamus)
Lapposyrphus Dusek & Laska 1967 (previously a subgenus of Eupeodes Osten-Sacken 1877)
Lejops (Eurimyia) Bigot 1883
Megasyrphus Dusek & Laska 1967 (previously a subgenus of Eriozona Schiner 1860)
Meligramma Frey 1946 (previously a subgenus of Melangyna Verall 1901)
Microdon (Omegasyrphus) Giglio-Tos 1891
Microdon (Chymophila) Macquart 1834
Myathropa Rondani 1845
Neoascia (Neoasciella) Stackelberg 1965
Orphnabaccha Hull 1949 (previously treated as Ocyptamus)
Pelecinobaccha Shannon 1927 (previously treated as Ocyptamus)
Pseudoscaeva Vockeroth 1969 (previously treated as Ocyptamus)
Xylota (Ameroxylota) Hippa 1978
Xylota (Sterphoides) Hippa 1978

Synonomies, demotions in rank and removed taxa:

Arctophila Schiner 1860 (now part of Sericomyia (sensu stricto))
Chamaesyrphus Mik 1895 (now Pelecocera (Chamaesyrphus))
E. (Eristalinus) Rondani 1845 (the species Eaeneus (Scopoli 1763) is actually part of the subgenus E. (Lathyrophthalmus) Mik 1897)
Palumbia Rondani 1865 (never proven to be present in the Nearctic region)

Methods & Materials

Specimens from all Nearctic genera and subgenera of Syrphidae recognized in the current literature (Vockeroth and Thompson 1987; Wirth et al. 1965) were used for illustrating the key. Specimens were obtained from the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes (CNC, Ottawa, Canada), the University of Guelph Insect Collection (DEBU, Guelph, Canada), and the National Museum of Natural History (USNM, Washington D.C., USA).

The key covers the Nearctic region, including Greenland, Canada, Continental USA and highland regions of Mexico. However, the distribution maps will reflect only North American records north of Mexico, since our nearctic Mexican specimen data is sparse and would be potentially misleading.
To generate the species lists for each genus, we obtained data from Systema Dipterorum (Thompson 2010) and supplemented this with specimen data from the CNC, DEBU and USNM. These collections were exhaustively searched for new material. Dozens of other syrphid collections were also examined but not as thoroughly (examined in parts over years of research or via loans). Several revisions of syrphid genera are under way and although we do not include undescribed species in our lists here, we feel that it is useful to include the most current nomenclature for species that will be split (i.e. resurrected from synonymy) with these anticipated publications.

Distribution maps were generated through Simplemappr (Shorthouse 2010) using the geocoded records from the combined specimen database of the CNC and DEBU collections. For Eosalpingogaster, the geocoded records of Mengual and Thompson (2011) were added to the database. Records from the database are marked as orange points in the maps. Blue points centered in a province/state represent non-geocoded records obtained from Systema Dipterorum (Thompson 2010), but which were not found in the combined specimen database. Maps were formatted using Adobe Illustrator CS4.

Character terminology generally follows Thompson (1999) with the exceptions of a few terms simplified (e.g. ‘hair’ instead of ‘pile’) to make the key accessible to a wide audience as possible. Characters were illustrated using high-magnification photographs of pinned specimens. A Canon EOS 1DS camera mounted on a computer-controlled focusing rail was used to take several photos of each specimen, from the most proximal to the most distal focus point at regular intervals. These raw images were later combined in one high depth of field image using Combine Z software. Wherever possible, the key was supplemented with live fly photos, the majority of which were taken by S. A. Marshall. J. H. Skevington and A. D. Young took other photographs of live specimens for the key, P. Alexander (Polybiomyia townsendi (Snow, 1895)), T. Bentley (Sericomyia flagrans (Osten Sacken, 1875), F. Geller-Grimm (Myathropa florea (Linnaeus, 1758)), R. Hemberger (Scaeva sp.), J. Klymko (Leucozona (Leucozonaamericana Curran, 1923), S. McCann (Ornidia obesa (Fabricius, 1775)), G. McDonald (Allograpta micrura (Osten Sacken, 1877), M. florea), H. S. Parker (Pseudoscaeva diversifasciata (Knab, 1914)) and H. Wisch (P. diversifasciata) kindly allowed use of their images, most which were obtained after finding them on ( ).

The key was developed in Microsoft PowerPoint: Mac 2008 v.12.2.7 (.pptx format) on an iMac 2009 running Mac OS X 10.5.8, and converted to html using the PPTools PPT2HTML software.

There are two types of page formats in the key. One type (multi-option format) has clickable pictures or boxes with text describing diagnostic characters for unique taxa or a group of taxa. The user is then directed to choose from one of the options displayed or to click a button to proceed to another slide with different options. The other type (dichotomous format) has two clickable buttons representing contrasting characters to select from. The picture/box (multi-option format) or button (dichotomous format) either links to a taxon page or to another multi-option or dichotomous page.
Taxa with particularly distinctive characters are displayed early in the key for quick identification. Superficially similar taxa are grouped together and linked to further pages detailing the character states necessary to properly distinguish between them.
The key includes all currently recognized subgenera. When the user reaches a subgeneric identification, the key is linked to a page that shows examples of all subgenera within that genus. This is done to allow for a quick comparison between the subgenera. Although the subgenus that was reached in the key is highlighted in green, all subgenera can be clicked on to explore their respective pages.

Each taxon with two or more species will have references to currently available species keys at the end of each taxon’s species list.

Using the key

The key has been designed for identification of living and/or dead specimens. However, methods of preservation may alter dead specimen’s appearance. For example, if specimens are air-dried straight from alcohol they will shrivel and often be virtually impossible to identify. When drying specimens from liquids, follow the protocols outlined by Martin (1977, p. 156-157) or Brown (1993). Specimens kept too long in humid environments will become greasy and dark, often obscuring colour patterns on their body. For example, we have seen Ferdinandea and even Helophilus specimens without thoracic striping when preserved in such environments. Our key makes no attempt to deal with such damaged specimens.

Results and Discussion

As stated above, we follow the syrphid classification and distribution in Systema Dipterorum (Thompson 2010) with a few exceptions. MonoceromyiaSphiximorpha and Polybiomyia are considered subgenera of Ceriana in the Systema Dipterorum database but they are treated as full genera in the Manual of Central American Diptera (Thompson et al. 2010), which we follow here. We also follow the Manual of Central American Diptera with respect to our treatment of Copestylum and thus do not divide it into subgenera. Evidence for the monophyly of Copestylum subgenera has not been rigorously tested. Ocyptamus is divided into species groups following Miranda (2011) because we anticipate that these groups will be formally recognized (as genera) in the near future. Eosalpingogaster and Salpingogaster are treated as separate genera following Mengual et al. (2008), Mengual and Thompson (2011) and Miranda (2011). Also following Mengual et al. (2008), EpistrophellaFaziaLapposyrphus and Meligramma are given full generic status (split from EpistropheAllograptaEupeodes and Melangyna respectively). The taxa Arctophila and Sericomyia (Conosyrphus) have been synonimized under Sericomyia sensu stricto as proposed by Skevington and Thompson (2012). Chamaesyrphus is proposed as a subgenus of Pelecocera Meigen, 1822 due to the author’s unpublished data that points out to a close affinity between the two taxa.

Chrysotoxum is currently under revision (Sommaggio and Skevington in prep). Many species currently considered synonyms will be resurrected in this study and are listed under this genus here. Platycheirus (Young 2012) and Volucella (Cheng 2011) are treated in a similar fashion. Leucozona americana is resurrected from synonymy from L. lucorum based on our unpublished morphological data. Leucozona lucorum (Linnaeus, 1758) is thus restricted to the Old World. Similarly, the New World Temnostoma excentrica (Harris, 1841) is resurrected from synonymy with the now Old World-restricted T. vespiforme (Linnaeus, 1758). This decision is based on work done in Asia (Krivosheina 2004) and on mtDNA we have analyzed (the two taxa are not sister species and are 4.8% different based on COI sequences). We have also examined variation within Ferdinandea species and are confident that Ferdinandea dives (Osten Sacken, 1877) and F. nigripes (Osten Sacken, 1877) are both synonyms of F. buccata (Loew, 1863) (new synonyms). There is considerable colour variation within each of these putative Ferdinandea taxa and mitochondrial COI data supports our hypothesis that these represent a single somewhat variable species (unpublished data).


Table 1. Genera and species recognized under Eristalinae.
Genus Subgenus Author, Year # of NE species
Alipumilio Shannon, 1927 1
Blera Billberg, 1820 16
Brachyopa Brachyopa Meigen, 1822 12
Brachyopa Hammerschmidtia Schummel, 1834 1
Brachypalpus Brachypalpus Macquart, 1834 1
Brachypalpus Crioprora Osten-Sacken, 1878 5
Callicera Panzer, 1809 3
Ceriana Rafinesque, 1815 6
Chalcosyrphus  Chalcosyrphus Curran, 1925 2
Chalcosyrphus  Neplas Porter, 1927 1
Chalcosyrphus Xylotomina Shannon, 1926 19
Cheilosia Meigen, 1822 81
Chrysogaster Meigen, 1803 2
Chrysosyrphus Sedman, 1965 5
Copestylum Macquart, 1846 35
Criorhina Meigen, 1822 14
Cynorhinella Curran, 1922 2
Eristalinus Eristalodes Mik, 1897 1
Eristalinus Lathyrophthalmus Mik, 1897 1
Eristalis Eoseristalis Kanervo, 1938 19
Eristalis Eristalis Latreille, 1804 1
Eumerus Meigen, 1822 3
Ferdinandea Rondani, 1844 3
Hadromyia Chrysosomidia Curran, 1934 5
Hadromyia Hadromyia Williston, 1882 1
Helophilus Meigen, 1822 9
Hiatomyia Shannon, 1922 21
Lejops Anasimyia Schiner, 1864 6
Lejops Arctosyrphus Frey, 1918 1
Lejops Asemosyrphus Bigot, 1882 1
Lejops Eurimyia Bigot, 1883 1
Lejops Lunomyia Curran & Fluke, 1926 1
Lejops Polydontomyia Williston, 1896 1
Lejota Rondani, 1857 2
Lepidomyia Loew, 1864 1
Mallota Meigen, 1822 5
Merapioidus Bigot, 1879 1
Merodon Meigen, 1803 1
Meromacrus Rondani, 1848 5
Milesia Latreille, 1804 3
Monoceromyia Shannon, 1922 1
Myathropa Rondani, 1845 1
Myolepta Newman, 1838 7
Nausigaster Williston, 1884 8
Neoascia Neoascia Williston, 1887 3
Neoascia Neoasciella Stackelberg, 1965 4
Ornidia Lepeltier & Serville, 1828 1
Orthonevra Macquart, 1829 16
Palpada Macquart, 1834 11
Parhelophilus Girschner, 1897 10
Pelecocera Chamaesyrphus Mik, 1895 1
Pelecocera Pelecocera Meigen, 1822 2
Pocota Lepeltier & Serville, 1828 1
Polybiomyia Shannon, 1925 8
Psilota Meigen, 1822 3
Pterallastes Loew, 1863 1
Pyritis Hunter, 1897 1
Rhingia Scopoli, 1763 1
Sericomyia Meigen, 1803 17
Somula Macquart, 1847 2
Sphecomyia Latreille, 1829 8
Sphegina Asiosphegina Stackelberg, 1974 5
Sphegina Sphegina Meigen, 1822 16
Sphiximorpha Rondani, 1850 4
Spilomyia Meigen, 1803 11
Syritta Lepeltier & Serville, 1828 2
Temnostoma Lepeltier & Serville, 1828 8
Teuchocnemis Osten-Sacken, 1875 2
Tropidia Meigen, 1822 8
Volucella Geoffroy, 1762 3
Xylota Ameroxylota Hippa, 1978 1
Xylota Sterphoides Hippa, 1978 4
Xylota Xylota Meigen, 1822 20
Total generic taxa 73
Total species 490


Table 2. Genera and species recognized under Microdontinae.
Genus Subgenus Author, Year # of NE species
Microdon Chymophila Gray, 1832 1
Microdon Microdon Meigen, 1803 25
Microdon Omegasyrphus Giglio-Tos, 1891 4
Mixogaster Macquart, 1842 3
Rhopalosyrphus Giglio-Tos, 1891 1
Total generic taxa 5
Total species 34


Table 3. Genera and species recognized under Syrphinae.
Genus Subgenus Author, Year # of NE species
Allograpta Osten-Sacken, 1877 3
Baccha Fabricius, 1805 1
Chrysotoxum Meigen, 1803 13
Dasysyrphus Enderlein, 1938 13
Didea Macquart, 1834 2
Dideomima Vockeroth, 1969 1
Doros Meigen, 1803 1
Eosalpingogaster Hull, 1949 2
Epistrophella Dusek & Laska, 1967 1
Epistrophe Walker, 1852 6
Eupeodes Eupeodes Osten-Sacken, 1877 1
Eupeodes Metasyrphus Matsumura, 1917 20
Fazia Shannon, 1927 1
Heringia Heringia Rondani, 1856 5
Heringia Neocnemodon Goffe, 1944 24
Hybobathus Enderlein, 1938 1
Lapposyrphus Dusek & Laska, 1967 2
Leucopodella Hull, 1949 1
Leucozona Ischyrosyrphus Bigot, 1882 2
Leucozona Leucozona Schiner, 1860 1
Megasyrphus Dusek & Laska, 1967 2
Melangyna Verrall, 1901 7
Melanostoma Schiner, 1860 1
Meligramma Frey, 1946 4
Meliscaeva Frey, 1946 1
Ocyptamus Macquart, 1834 10
Orphnabaccha Hull, 1949 2
Paragus Pandasyopthalmus Stuckenberg, 1954 1
Paragus Paragus Latreille, 1804 7
Parasyrphus Matsumura, 1917 11
Pelecinobaccha Shannon, 1927 1
Pipiza Fallen, 1810 11
Platycheirus Lepeltier & Serville, 1828 73
Pseudoscaeva Vockeroth, 1969 1
Pseudodoros Becker, 1903 1
Salpingogaster Schiner, 1868 1
Scaeva Fabricius, 1805 1
Sphaerophoria Lepeltier & Serville, 1828 14
Syrphus Fabricius, 1775 14
Toxomerus Macquart, 1855 13
Trichopsomyia Williston, 1888 9
Xanthandrus Verrall, 1901 1
Xanthogramma Schiner, 1860 1
Total generic taxa 43
Total species 288

Key to Genera


Thanks to Stephen Luk for taking many of the character photographs using the Microptics system; to V. Bura, A. Jewiss-Gaines, B. Kelly, S. Matheson, O. Mitra and V. Nowell for databasing Syrphidae specimens at the CNC and the DEBU collections; to the students at the CANPOLIN Pollinator Identification Course and the University of Guelph for beta testing; to M. Hauser for sharing distributional records of Myathropa florea. Funding to GFGM was provided by Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Ensino Superior (CAPES/MCTI). The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC-CANPOLIN) provided for funding much of this work, including support for ADY’s and MML’s graduate studies. This is CANPOLIN publication number 66. NSERC Discovery Grants to SAM and JHS provided additional student support and Agriculture and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada funding to JHS contributed much of the necessary infrastructure for the work done in Ottawa.


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Miranda, G.F.G, Young, A.D., Locke, M.M., Marshall, S.A., Skevington, J.H., Thompson, F.C. 2013. Key to the Genera of Nearctic Syrphidae. Canadian Journal of Arthropod Identification No. 23, 23 August, 2013. Available online at doi: 10.3752/cjai.2013.23

Source of key is text (=text)