The name ‘soldierflies’, as with ‘soldier beetles’, derives from an era when soldiers were dressed in conspicuous and colourful uniform, the insects themselves often being spotted on flowers as if on sentry duty. It is highly likely that you have seen soldierflies without realising it, assuming them to be hoverflies or some other insect. In Britain we have 47 confirmed species, many of intermediate size, but, as an introduction to the army, the focus here is on the ‘Big Five’ species, 1cm to nearly 2cm long.
The first step in recognising soldierflies is to check the wing venation, which is very different from that of a hoverfly. The veins (struts supporting the wing membrane) are strong in the front half of the wing but faint in the hind half. Most distinctive is a small ring-vein from which an array of faint veins fans towards the wing margin.