Skip to main content

A Syrphid Fly Uses Olfactory Cues to Find a Non-Yellow Flower


Syrphid flies are frequent flower visitors, but little is known about the cues they use to find flowers. We determined the importance of visual and olfactory cues in a flight cage bioassay using Cirsium arvense (Asteraceae) flower heads and experienced Episyrphus balteatus (Diptera, Syrphidae). We tested the response of antennae of the flies to headspace inflorescence scent samples by using gas chromatography coupled to electroantennography (GC-EAD). The bioassays revealed that both sexes of experienced flies rely on olfactory, not visual, cues to find C. arvense flower heads. The GC-EAD measurements demonstrated that male and female flies have olfactory receptors for several of the compounds emitted by the inflorescences. These electroantennographic-active compounds may be responsible for the attraction of flies to the C. arvense flower heads. Among the compounds eliciting an antennal response are methyl salicylate and 2-phenylethanol, which were previously described as syrphid attractants. Overall, our study demonstrates for the first time that a syrphid fly uses olfactory and not visual cues to find a pollen/nectar host-plant.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1


  • Dötterl, S., Füssel, U., Jürgens, A., and Aas, G. 2005. 1,4-Dimethoxybenzene, a floral scent compound in willows that attracts an oligolectic bee. J. Chem. Ecol. 31:2993–2998.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  • Harmel, N., Almohamad, R., Fauconnier, M. L., Du Jardin, P., Verheggen, F. J., Marlier, M., Haubruge, E., and Francis, F. 2007. Role of terpenes from aphid-infested potato on searching and ovoposition behaviour of Episyrphus balteatus. Insect Sci. 14:57–63.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  • Lunau, K. 1988. Innate and learned behaviour of flower-visiting hoverflies. Flower-dummy experiments with Eristalis pertinax (Scopoli) (Diptera, Syrphidae). Zool. Jb. Physiol. 92:487–499.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lunau, K. and Wacht, S. 1994. Optical releasers of the innate proboscis extension in the hoverfly Eristalis tenax L. (Syrphidae, Diptera). J. Comp. Physiol. A 174:575–579.

    Google Scholar 

  • Lunau, K., Hofmann, N., and Valentin, S. 2005. Response of the hoverfly species Eristalis tenax towards floral dot guides with colour transition from red to yellow (Diptera: Syrphidae). Entomol. Gen. 27:249–256.

    Google Scholar 

  • Majetic, C., Raguso, R. A., and Ashman, T.-L. 2009. The sweet smell of success: floral scent affects pollinator attraction and seed fitness in Hesperis matronalis. Funct. Ecol. 23:480–487.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Shi, J., Luo, Y.-B., Bernhardt, P., Ran, J.-C., Liu, Z.-J., and Zhou, Q. 2009. Pollination by deceit in Paphiopedilum barbigerum (Orchidaceae): a staminoide exploits the innate colour preferences of hoverflies (Syrphidae). Plant Biol. 11:71–28.

    Google Scholar 

  • Sutherland, J. P., Sullivan, M. S., and Poppy, G. M. 1999. The influence of floral character on the foraging behaviour of the hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus. Entomol. Exp. Appl. 93:157–164.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Theis, N., Lerdau, M., and Raguso, R. A. 2007. The challenge of attracting pollinators while evading floral herbivores: patterns of fragrance emission in Cirsium arvense and Cirsium repandum (Asteraceae). Int. J. Plant Sci. 168:587–601.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Zhu, J. and Park, K.C. 2005. Methyl salicylate, a soybean aphid-induced plant volatile attractive to the predator Coccinella septempunctata. J. Chem. Ecol. 31:1733–1746.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


Gregor Aas helped with plant material and provided the greenhouse and Irmgard Schäffler participated in useful discussions. Lynn Amanda Staff, Joseph Woodring, and two anonymous referees gave valuable comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. CP was supported by a grant (AP2006-03067) from Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia-Spain.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Stefan Dötterl.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Primante, C., Dötterl, S. A Syrphid Fly Uses Olfactory Cues to Find a Non-Yellow Flower. J Chem Ecol 36, 1207–1210 (2010).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Revised:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:


  • Floral attraction
  • Olfactory cues
  • Visual cues
  • Episyrphus balteatus
  • Cirsium arvense
  • Behavioral assay
  • GC-EAD
  • Asteraceae
  • Diptera