Fibroblast growth factor (FGF) signaling controls a vast array of biological processes including cell differentiation and migration, wound healing and malignancy. In vertebrates, FGF signaling is complex, with over 100 predicted FGF ligand-receptor combinations. Drosophila melanogaster presents a simpler model system in which to study FGF signaling, with only three ligands and two FGF receptors (FGFRs) identified. Here we analyze the specificity of FGFR [Heartless (Htl) and Breathless (Btl)] activation by each of the FGF ligands [Pyramus (Pyr), Thisbe (Ths) and Branchless (Bnl)] in Drosophila. We confirm that both Pyr and Ths can activate Htl, and that only Bnl can activate Btl. To examine the role of each ligand in supporting activation of the Htl FGFR, we utilize genetic approaches that focus on the earliest stages of embryonic development. When pyr and ths are equivalently expressed using the Gal4 system, these ligands support qualitatively different FGFR signaling responses. Both Pyr and Ths function in a non-autonomous fashion to support mesoderm spreading during gastrulation, but Pyr exhibits a longer functional range. pyr and ths single mutants exhibit defects in mesoderm spreading during gastrulation, yet only pyr mutants exhibit severe defects in dorsal mesoderm specification. We demonstrate that the Drosophila FGFs have different activities and that cell migration and differentiation have different ligand requirements. Furthermore, these FGF ligands are not regulated solely by differential expression, but the sequences of these linked genes have evolved to serve different functions. We contend that inherent properties of FGF ligands make them suitable to support specific FGF-dependent processes, and that FGF ligands are not always interchangeable.