Meet the Pollinators: Spoiler It’s Not Just Honeybees
September 29, 2016
3 Min Read
The vast majority of plant life requires pollination by insects. Without our pollinators, agriculture would bid farewell to most fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, hay and even cotton. Our beautiful gardens would disappear as well. You see, pollinating insects helps plants reproduce by transferring pollen from the male parts of one flower to the female parts of another flower of the same kind. This results in the fertilization of the flower and the production of seeds.Contrary to popular believe, there are several insects that help out with pollination. Our bee friends take most of the credit in the pollination department, but there are several other insects that put in work too.Here is a little cheat sheet on our beloved pollinators:Who pollinates? Bees, wasps, and ants (Hymenoptera)Butterflies and moths (Lepidoptera)Flies (Diptera)Beetles (Coleoptera)BeesThe king... or should I say Queen of all pollinators is the bee. In fact, one out of every three bites of food we consume is because of these little ones. While the most well known bee is the European honeybee, there are actually hundreds of other types of bees, like bumblebees, solitary bees and carpenter bees.Why are bees so good at pollinating you may wonder? Well, the bees have three unique tools Mother Nature equipped them with. First, they are covered in little hairs which allows pollen to stick to them. Second, they use electrostatic forces, also known a static, to keep the pollen on their bodies. Finally, they have special sacks, sometimes referred to as pollen pockets or pants, that they brush the pollen into for transportation. Next time you see a bee, look to see if she has full pollen pants!
Butterflies prefer larger flowers because it’s easier for them to perch. Like bees, they collect pollen on their legs, however, because their legs are longer and farther away from where the pollen is, they end up collecting less pollen. That being said, butterflies are still effective pollinators.
Wasps are notorious for ruining outdoor meals, but as pesky as they might seem, still do their fair share of pollinating. Not all wasps visit flowers, but some do like the fig wasp, who pollinates fig trees. Wasps look like bees, minus the fuzzy hairs. And, because they are missing the fuzz, pollen doesn’t stick to their bodies making them much less efficient at pollinating flowers.
Though rare, pollination by ants does happen. The pollination is limited because ants walk instead of fly, but pollination of a small population of plants is possible.
While we think of flies as the pests that like to land on our food, many flies actually feed on flowers. Flies are really important for environments where bees are less likely to be found like arctic habitats. One of the most well know pollinator fly is the hover fly. They pollinate many fruit crops, like apples, pears, cherries, and berries, to name a few. One of the most notable flies that pollinate are midges. Midges are small little flies, but they are also chocolate’s dirty little secret. Midges pollinate the white flowers of the cacao tree. This means without the midge, we would have NO chocolate!
Male Mosquitos drink nectar for energy to fuel them for their flights. When drinking from one flower, the mosquito's tend to collect pollen. When they move on to the next flower, they transfer some of the pollen.
Moths are night-flying pollinators who enjoy visiting white, fragrant flowers, like jasmine. The white flowers reflect moonlight, making them easier to see. One of the most known moth-pollinated plants is the yucca plant, which depends on the yucca moth for pollination.
One of the most historic pollinators, the beetle still provides pollination for flowers today. They tend to stick around the flowers that they are familiar with, like magnolias and water lilies. The beetles don't actually go for the nectar like other pollinators, which is why they are known as mess and soil pollinators. Instead, they opt for the actual plant, chewing up and consuming the plants they visit. Stay tuned for our pollinator garden cheat sheet to find out what to plant in your garden to attract pollinators!