Name a pollinator. Any pollinator. Did bees come to mind? Or maybe butterflies? What about flies? Probably not.

It’s not your fault, but we’re here to tell you that flies are the unsung heroes of pollination. Okay, okay, we realize that bees get an A+ for best pollinators ever. But flies are coming in right behind them! And considering how many bee species are struggling right now, we should be ever grateful for all the pollinators out there. Across the globe, there are thousands of pollinating fly species.

Since flies aren’t quite as hairy as bees, they aren’t able to transfer quite as much pollen between flowers, but they still transmit plenty of pollen! Some of the most impressive pollinating flies include hoverflies and blowflies. These flies visit blooms to drink their nectar and eat the pollen– that fuels them and gives them energy. When they fly from flower to flower, they collect pollen on their heads and thorax. Some bigger flies can collect hundreds of pieces of pollen! Plus there are plenty of things that make flies unique pollinators.

Firstly, while bees only visit flowers that are close by to their hives, flies aren’t bound to a certain area. They can pollinate far and wide! Many flies also tend to forage earlier in the day and late into the evening and can stand all sorts of temperature – that’s critical for Canada since we often have cooler weather here. Plus they don’t get put off by a bit of bad weather – flies will be out there pollinating flowers in the rain or sun! Moreover, they are beneficial beyond pollination. When they are in their larvae form, flies like hoverflies will chow down on harmful insects like aphids (those nasty bugs killing your rose bush).

What Pollinating Flies Love

“Purple Coneflower” by Lisa Charbonneau
Photo: Lisa Charbonneau | CWF Photo Club

Pollinating flies are attracted to blooms based on their colour and their smell. Of course, their own anatomy comes into play as well! Long-tongued flies will happily zip around and feed on the same flowers that bees like. But short-tongued flies usually like to choose flowers that are a little easier to access. Open blooms are perfect for these kinds of flies!

Pollinating flies are usually attracted to yellow, pink or white flowers and so coneflower, Prickly Rose, Common Yarrow, pale asters, goldenrod and Black-eyed Susans are perfect picks for these tiny creatures. But some pollinating flies are also fans of deep red posies. Why? Because they look kinda like decaying meat. Gross, but true.

Another factor that attracts a lot of flies? Smell. In particular, putrid smells. That’s right. Many pollinating flies love the smell of decaying flesh. One example is Jack-in-the-pulpit flowers which smells a little like fungus (ew). Very small flies are attracted to these blooms. Red Trillium is another stinky flower that many pollinating flies love! This flower is said to smell a little like rotting flesh (how…lovely).