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Why Do Flies Rub Their Hands Together?

With their constant buzzing and lingering around food, flies can be a nuisance. However, these insects also have fascinating aspects to them, such as the ability to walk upside down and taste their food with their feet. If you’ve ever watched a landed fly long enough, you may also see them rubbing their hands together. No, this isn’t a villainous gesture of them plotting how to annoy you next.

Read on to learn more about why flies rub their hands together and other interesting facts about their behaviors!

Why do flies rub their hands together?

While most fly species have the habit of rubbing their front two limbs together, it’s most noticeable in house flies (Musca domestica). They do this because self-grooming is one of their main daily activities. This rubbing motion helps them clean their limbs from chemical and physical debris. Staying clean is important for many reasons, including helping them court mates, find food, and fly.

For instance, flies use the bristles on their legs to sense the environment around them. When their legs are clean, it helps them sense things better, so they can effectively fly around to find food or mates as well as avoid predators.

What do flies do when they land on you?

Contrary to some beliefs, they don’t bite. Most flies don’t have an appetite for human blood, but they are attracted to your skin. Typically when a fly lands on you, they use their soft, sponge-like mouth to suck up any secretions on your skin, including pieces of dead skin that have flaked off.

Flies enjoy feeding on sweat, carbohydrates, proteins, sugars, salts, oils, and other chemicals found on human skin. Since animals with fur or hair make it harder to suck up these substances, they prefer the less hairy alternative of human skin.

Why do flies purposely annoy you?

Sometimes it seems like flies buzz around you and attempt to land on you as a purposeful annoyance tactic. However, they generally hang about because they are attracted to multiple things relating to humans. On top of trying to feed on your skin secretions, flies are also attracted to:

  • The carbon dioxide you breathe out
  • Your body and hair’s natural oils
  • The warmth of your body
  • Any scent of food lingering on you

Flies also don’t see humans as threats because they can fly away from harm within 100 milliseconds. They accomplish this with their complex eyes that let them see all around with no blind spots.

Do flies feel pain?

You’ve probably experienced a situation where you’re trying to swat a fly and even when you hit them slightly, they still buzz around you. Does this mean they don’t feel pain? No, flies do feel pain.

Scientists have found that fruit flies react to pain similar to humans. Their nervous systems can even experience chronic pain when they encounter physical harm or extreme heat or cold.

So, while these insects are stubborn, don’t fear you, and are attracted to you for multiple reasons, they are more sensitive than they initially appear.

You may also like:  Do Hissing Cockroaches Bite?

Is it OK to eat food after a fly lands on it?

Food with flies
Food with flies

Generally yes, but still be cautious. the risk of getting sick from one fly touching your food is lower than most people believe. Our immune systems are generally strong enough to combat any bugs that they might transfer.

If you live in the countryside or areas with chemicals and insecticides, the risk does increase depending on what the fly was exposed to. For example, they sometimes feed on feces and may transfer over parasites from that food source.

You’ve probably also heard that flies are dirty and poop every time they land, even on the food they are about to it. Since most flies have liquid diets, their digestion systems are very fast, so they do poop a lot.

Whether this is every time they land is still up for debate. What they can do, however, is vomit on your food. Flies will vomit a mix of saliva and enzymes that breaks down their food into liquid before they eat it.

So even if it’s safe to eat food after a fly has landed on it, it’s still gross when you think about the behaviors of flies.

What smells do flies hate?

Flies have an amazing ability to sense their surroundings and there are definitely smells you can keep around to deter them from annoying you or landing on your food. Examples of plants or essential oils with smells that flies hate include:

  • Lavender
  • Basil
  • Cinnamon
  • Cloves
  • Mint
  • Lemongrass
  • Peppermint
  • Marigold

Why do flies exist in the world?

Since flies are annoying and some species can carry various diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever, it’s easy to wonder why they exist at all. Flies are actually important parts of the natural ecosystem.

They help with the decomposition of rotting organic matter. They are also a crucial food source for many reptiles, frogs, and other insects that eat their larvae.


It may be surprising to learn that flies are self-groomers and constantly keep their limbs clean by rubbing their “hands” together. They need this to help them fly and sense their surroundings.

However, flies can still be annoying when they buzz around you since they don’t see humans as threats. To avoid the thought of what they do when they land on you or your food, spray some essential oils in the air with the smells that they hate.

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