Flies are Pollinators!

Oct 8, 2015

Will all the pollinators please stand up!

Or do a fly-by like the Blue Angels or a crawl-by like babies competing in a diaper derby.

Bees--there are more than 4000 of them in North America--are the main pollinators, but don't overlook butterflies, beetles, birds, bats and moths.

And flies.


Yes, flies.

Hover flies, aka flower flies or syrphid flies, belong to the family Syrphidae. Scientists estimate that worldwide, there are about 6000 described species in 200 genera. As their name implies, hover flies "hover," sort of like a helicopter preparing to land.

Here's proof positive that flies can pollinate. If you look closely at this little hover fly on a Mexican sunflower (Tithonia),  you'll see that it has just grabbed some pollen. Adult hover flies feed on pollen and nectar. 

Many folks mistake hover flies for bees. Look through any stock photo catalog or macro insect images on Flickr or a Facebook page and you'll often see hover flies identified as bees.

Three of the easiest ways to differentiate a fly from a bee:

  • A fly has one set of wings. A bee has two sets.
  • A fly has short, stubby antennae. A honey bee doesn't.
  • A fly has no corbicula or pollen basket. A honey bee (worker bee) does. 

Welcome to the Pollination Nation!

For more information on syrphids, read the UC Statewide Integrated Pest Management's information on managing pests or read entomologist Robert Bugg's free downloadable PDF on the UC ANR website, Flower Flies (Syrphidae) and Other Biological Control Agents for Aphids (Publication No. 8285).