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What smell attracts flies?

What smell attracts flies?

Flies are attracted to certain smells and scents for a variety of reasons. The main smells and scents that attract flies are those that indicate a food source, breeding site, or mating opportunity. By understanding what attracts flies, you can take steps to reduce their presence by removing or covering up these attractant odors.

Smells that Attract Flies as a Food Source

Flies have a very strong sense of smell and can detect odors over long distances. They are especially attracted to the smell of decay and food waste. Some specific smells that attract flies looking for food include:

– Decaying organic matter – Rotting fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, and compost piles emit volatile gases that signal a food source to flies. They can smell the gases from up to 2 miles away.

– Fermenting sweets – Flies enjoy sugary substances like nectar, syrup, alcohol, and fruit juices that have begun to ferment and produce CO2 and ethanol. These sweet aromas lure hungry flies.

– Garbage and trash cans – Flies gather around garbage cans and dumps containing discarded food scraps, peelings, and waste. The smells indicate an easy meal.

– Grease traps and dirty dishes – Flies will also head to the scents of leftover grease and food residue on unwashed dishes, pans, and kitchen surfaces.

– Open containers and wrappers – Any open container of food or unsealed wrapper gives off aromas that draw in foraging flies. Even small bits get their attention.

– Pet food and droppings – Flies detect odors from pet food bowls, as well as fresh pet feces which contains proteins and moisture they seek.

– Manure and fertilizer – These waste products contain nutrients flies want. Manure from livestock, poultry, horses, and other animals can be a fly attraction.

By cleaning up wastes, storing foods properly, taking out trash regularly, and keeping a tidy kitchen, you can minimize food smells that appeal to flies. Make sure any receptacles have tight fitting lids as well.

Smells that Attract Flies for Breeding Sites

In addition to seeking food, flies rely on their sense of smell to find appropriate breeding sites for laying eggs. The main scents that lure flies looking to spawn include:

– Decaying organics – Rotting fruit and vegetation provide ideal breeding conditions. Flies can smell ripening produce and plants beginning to decompose.

– Sewage and drainage – The odor of sewage from waste pipes or septic systems contains chemicals that signal breeding habitat. Stagnant water emits ammonia used for navigation.

– Animal wastes – Manure and other animal droppings provide moisture and nutrients for maggots to thrive. The pungent odor draws in gravid female flies.

– Garbage and refuse – Dumpsters and trash cans containing discarded food, paper, and organic waste provide abundant breeding media. Flies smell the banquet from afar.

– Ponds and standing water – Stagnant pools, puddles, and wet leaves often have decomposing organic material flies can use for breeding and egg laying.

– Lawn clippings – Cut grass left in piles has a sweet, fermenting odor that attracts flies as a reproductive site.

– Compost piles – These contain abundant decaying organics for flies to use. Turning and maintaining compost regularly can deter flies.

Eliminating standing water, cleaning pet waste, and removing waste organics can make areas less attractive to flies for breeding. Make sure drains and septic systems are in good working order as well.

Smells that Attract Flies for Mating

Some flies chase scents that offer breeding opportunities rather than food. Powerful pheromones draw male flies to the smell of female flies ready to mate. Smells that attract flies for mating purposes include:

– Fly aggregates – Male flies detect the odor of pheromones from virgin females gathered in mating swarms. The scent attracts other males and females to congregate.

– Oviposition sites – Gravid female flies give off odors after finding breeding sites. Male flies smell the scent and gather, waiting for the females to lay eggs.

– Dung and carrion – Flies swarm on dung and dead carcasses while mating. The smells signal prime breeding media.

– Fermenting fruit – The aromas of ripening, fermenting fruits attract mating flies. The fruits provide food and egg-laying sites.

– Decaying organics – Rotting organic materials contain pheromones from gravid female flies. The scent draws in male flies to mate.

– Human sweat and feet – Some flies are attracted to the acids in human perspiration for mating. Foot odor gives off similar scents.

The most effective means of controlling flies that chase breeding smells is to identify and remove reproduction sites. Using traps and insecticides can also control fly populations so fewer are available to mate.

Other Odors that Attract Flies

Flies respond to some additional odors that offer food sources and breeding opportunities:

– Nectar and pollen from flowers – Bees aren’t the only insects that smell tasty, sweet floral nectar. Flies enjoy the scent too.

– Mushrooms and fungi – The earthy, musty aromas coming from mushrooms signal a food source to flies.

– Newly cut grass – The smell of lawn clippings may mimic rotting vegetation and attract flies.

– Smoke and ash – Flies associate the smell with decay and fire-damaged organic matter they can consume.

– Perfumes and cosmetics – Flies land on people wearing scented products, mistaking them for flower nectars.

– Hair spray and rubbing alcohol – These contain volatile compounds that mimic fly pheromones to lure male flies.

Avoid wearing strong perfumes or colognes outdoors during fly season. Also rinse grass clippings off paved areas after mowing lawns to reduce fly allure. Keep compost enclosed and turn regularly.

Smells that Repel Flies

While certain odors attract flies, other smells can help repel and deter them. Scents flies dislike and avoid include:

– Citronella – The scent of citronella candles, torches, lanterns and oils repel flies. It masks scents that attract them.

– Eucalyptus – This plant’s minty, medicinal fragrance helps drive flies away and covers up smells they like.

– Peppermint – The strong menthol odor of peppermint oil repels flies. It can be used in sprays, candles, or around gardens.

– Citrus peels – Orange, lemon, grapefruit or lime peels and oils have aromatic compounds that deter flies.

– Bay leaves – The pungent, bitter aroma from bay leaf plants or dried leaves discourages flies.

– Basil – Flies dislike the smell of basil. The essential oils provide fly repelling benefits.

– Lavender – This flower’s clean, fresh, perfume-like scent helps mask odors that attract flies.

– Onions and garlic – The sulfur compounds flies detect coming from these vegetables are irritating and repulsive.

– Vinegar – Flies avoid acetic acid. Mixtures of vinegar and water can be used as DIY fly sprays.

– Cedar – Flies don’t like the woodsy fragrance of cedar chips, blocks, or essential oils.

Using these natural scents strategically indoors and outdoors provides additional fly control and prevents infestations. The smells hide attractants and repel flies already present.

Why Flies Are Drawn to Smells

Flies have a highly advanced sense of smell crucial for their survival. Understanding fly olfaction explains why they zero in on particular scents:

– Odor receptors – Flies have specialized sensory cells and odorant receptor proteins covering their antennae and palps that detect airborne scents.

– Large antennae – A fly’s large feathery antennae contain thousands of odor receptors allowing them to pick up faint traces of smell.

– Detect gas components – Odor molecules in gaseous form enter the odor receptors and bind to proteins sending nerve signals to the brain perceived as smell.

– Wide range – Flies can sense odors over long distances up to several miles away depending on wind and concentration.

– Distinguish odors – Olfactory sensory neurons allow flies to discriminate different scents and identify food, breeding sites, smoke and pheromones.

– Genetic components – Genes expressing olfactory proteins determine odor sensitivity and attraction preferences in flies.

– Important for survival – Finding food, mates, and egg-laying sites via smell helps flies locate essential resources and reproduce.

– Avoid threats – Smell also helps flies identify dangers like insecticides and predators and escape harm.

The advanced olfaction gives flies an advantage in seeking out suitable habitats, resources, and mates. But it can be outsmarted by removing or covering the smells they desire.


In summary, flies rely heavily on smell to drive their behavior and actions. By following scents, they can pinpoint locations with food, breeding sites, and potential mates. Foul odors from decay, wastes, garbage, sewage, and carrion produce volatile compounds that function like magnets to flies. Sweet smells also lure them. Knowing which odors attract flies makes it possible to control them through improved sanitation, waste management, prompt food disposal, drain maintenance, and removing reproduction habitat. Additionally, repellent scents from plants like mint, citrus, lavender, and herbs can discourage flies from lingering or entering areas. With vigilant odor removal and smart scent repulsion, flies lose their chemical compasses and have much greater difficulty multiplying and causing problems.