This species of biting horse-fly reaches 19 to 24 millimetres in length. Its upper body is dark grey, with a row of whitish or greyish-yellow triangular spots on the tergum (the dorsal section of the abdomen). Its underside is brownish to pinkish white, covered by a thin greyish coat with a brownish-black stripe in the middle. The antennae are black, except the top two sections, which are green. The females have separate eyes, but the eyes of the males are compound and very colourful, with stripe-like patterns.
The horse-fly prefers open spaces and can be found throughout Europe, with the exception of northern areas, and also in the Caucasus and Western Siberia.
Only the females require a blood meal in order to obtain sufficient protein to produce eggs. As the Latin name suggests, they prefer the blood of cows, horses and other large mammals, and only rarely attack human beings. The males feed of the nectar of flowers, and the larvae live in damp soil.