Saturday Surprise has been on hiatus for a few weeks, and likely would have remained so this week, but for our friend Ellen who gave me a heads-up that this week, the week of June 22 – June 28, happens to be National Pollinator Week! Once I knew that, I felt compelled to share it with you, and I thought it might be fun for us all.
If you’re like me, the first thing that comes to mind when you hear ‘pollinator’ is the bee. And rightfully so, as there are 20,000 bee species in the world, many of them hearty pollinators without whom our food supply would be in serious trouble. But they aren’t the only animals moving pollen from the stamen of one flower to the stigma of another. Earth is home to a host of weird and unusual pollinators that ensure both food crops and wild flowering plants complete their life cycle. Let’s take a look at a few …
Take the chocolate midges — small flies no bigger than poppy seeds, and the primary pollinators of cacao plants. The intricate petals of the dime-sized flowers curl down over the plant’s stamen where the pollen is made, making it difficult for larger pollinators to access. It takes many midges to gather pollen and fertilize another flower. They toil away at dusk and dawn and prefer dense shady rainforest habitats like those in the Amazon basin. Without them, chocolate would be much harder to come by.
Or how about the clearwing hummingbird moths that hover in front of long-necked flowers, where they unroll their long tongues, insert them inside and sip the nectar, collecting pollen as they go. With their yellowish-brown or green and black bodies, and (often) clear, red-framed wings that sound like their namesake, people are sometimes confused by what they are looking at.
But insects aren’t the only pollinators. There are about 2,000 species of pollinating birds worldwide, including honeycreepers, honeyeaters, sunbirds, and some parrots. With its bright green, red, blue, orange and yellow plumage, one that really stands out is the rainbow lorikeet, native to Australia and Indonesia. While sipping nectar from flowers like those of the yellow gum, pollen attaches to their foreheads and throat, and even to tiny fingers on their tongue called papillae where it hitches a ride to the next flower.
And mammals can also be pollinators. Now, a lot of people don’t like bats, and admittedly I don’t like anything flying into my face, or getting tangled in my hair, but I think bats are cute.
Bats are responsible for pollinating over 500 plant species, including types of mango, banana, durian, guava and agave (used to make tequila). Bats work at night and are attracted to pale flowers, unlike many of their daytime colleagues. Some, like the Mexican long-tongued bat, are really specialized for the job with a long skinny tongue that can reach into tube-shaped flowers.
And then there’s the ruffed lemur, a black and white primate from Madagascar, that gets pollen on its snout while gorging on nectar from traveler’s palms.
Even lizards pollinate. The sleek Noronha skink of the island Fernando de Noronha off of northeastern Brazil appears to pollinate mulungu trees, known for their fabulously weird orangey-pink flowers. Pollen collects on its scales when it’s sipping nectar and brushes up against the flowers’ stamens. The same is thought to be true of snow skinks in Tasmania, who get pollen on their scales after tearing apart the peachy red flowers of the Richea scoparia plant.
The list of non-bee pollinators goes on and on, including slugs, butterflies, wasps and many species of beetles. And those are just the ones we know about—scientists are still discovering new connections between plants and the animals that help them reproduce. And with bees so vulnerable to environmental change, a better appreciation of all pollinators and the roles they play will be essential to better crop management and the protection of wild plants in the future.
Now about National Pollinator Week. In recognition of the significance of a stable pollinator population, the Pollinator Partnership (formerly the Coevolution Institute) collaborating with the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation, established the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC) in 1999. Their goals were to …
- coordinate local, national, and international projects in the areas of pollinator research, education and awareness, conservation and restoration, policies and practices, and partnership initiatives,
- aid communication among stakeholders, build coalitions, and leverage existing resources,
- demonstrate a positive measurable impact on the populations and health of pollinating animals within five years.
And in 2006, the U.S. Senate passed a Resolution to protect pollinators and designated the first National Pollinator Week as June 24–30, 2007. The U.S. Postal Service even got in on the act and issued a “Pollination” stamp series released in June 2007.
So, what can we do? Bees are still the most common pollinator for most of us, and the bee population, as I have written before, is in serious trouble. Miss Goose and I have planted bee-friendly flower seeds in our tiny front yard, and there is a flower/plant that just popped up a couple of years ago in the front of our yard that is home to both caterpillars and bees. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a list of 7 things that most any of us can do to help the pollinators:
- Use pollinator-friendly plants in your landscape. Shrubs and trees such as dogwood, blueberry, cherry, plum, willow, and poplar provide pollen or nectar, or both, early in spring when food is scarce.
- Choose a mixture of plants for spring, summer, and fall. Different flower colors, shapes, and scents will attract a wide variety of pollinators. If you have limited space, you can plant flowers in containers on a patio, balcony, and even window boxes.
- Reduce or eliminate pesticide use in your landscape, or incorporate plants that attract beneficial insects for pest control. If you use pesticides, use them sparingly and responsibly.
- Accept some plant damage on plants meant to provide habitat for butterfly and moth larvae.
- Provide clean water for pollinators with a shallow dish, bowl, or birdbath with half-submerged stones for perches.
- Leave dead tree trunks, also called “snags,” in your landscape for wood-nesting bees and beetles.
- Support land conservation in your community by helping to create and maintain community gardens and green spaces to ensure that pollinators have appropriate habitat.
I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a bit about other pollinators and enjoyed the pictures. Now, get out there and plant some bee-friendly flowers … it’s not too late! Have a great weekend, my friends!