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Flower Flies: Beneficial Bee Mimics

Photo of a flower fly on blue-eyed grass
Flower fly on blue-eyed grass

Is it a bee? Is it a wasp? It's a flower fly! Also referred to as hoverflies, flower flies are one of the lesser-known beneficial insects in the garden. Adult flower flies feed on nectar and pollen and are important pollinators just like their mimicked bee counterparts. The larvae, depending on the species, feed on decaying matter or plant-sucking insects like aphids and thrips, making them great garden allies!

Here are three ways to distinguish flower flies from bees: 
  1. They only have one set of wings that they hold at the sides of their bodies at about a 45 degree angle (bees fold two sets of wings on top of their bodies). 
  2. They have short, stubby antennae. 
  3. They have larger compound eyes on a rounded head. 

Although they are generally known to visit weedy plants like alyssum, mustard, and thistles, several species visit common drought-tolerant plants throughout the Arboretum and Public Garden. You can find several of these plants at our fall plant sales, including blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium bellum), blanket flowers (Gaillardia cultivars), butterfly rose (Rosa x odorata 'Mutabilis'), and Wayne Roderick seaside daisy (Erigeron 'W.R.').