BY JULIE YOUMANS
PHOTO CREDITS: JULIE YOUMANS
Insects and other animals transfer pollen from plant to plant as part of the reproductive cycle resulting in seeds and later new fruit and crops. These pollinators provide an essential role in the fertilization of the food crops that feed people worldwide. Coffee, chocolate, melons, peaches, apples, blueberries, potatoes, pumpkins, vanilla, almonds, and tequila all exist with the help of the pollinators.
Pollinators fulfill their important job inadvertently. To a large extent they come to a plant seeking a mate, nectar, shelter, or nesting material and end up moving to subsequent plants with the pollen that has stuck to them.
Who are the pollinators?
- Bees – filling sacs attached to their hind legs with pollen.
- Hummingbirds – tend to pollinate flowers that hang upside-down.
- Butterflies – not as efficient as bees, but butterflies can see red which bees cannot, and this brings them to brightly colored flowers.
- Bats – pollinate at night. Think of them at the grocery store when you buy the fruits of plants they pollinate: bananas, carob, cashews, cloves, dates, figs, mangoes, and peaches.
- Ants – don’t have the best record as pollinators since they often eat the pollen themselves.
- Beetles – pollinate more flowering plants than other animals. They are attracted by scent even though they do have color vision.
- Lizards – seek the nectar but carry away pollen on themselves.
- Flies – are attracted to scents that are putrid, smelling like rotting meat, carrion, dung, humus, sap or blood.
- Moths – are night pollinators of flowers that are white or dull colored.
- Lemurs – transport pollen that sticks to their noses.
- Possums – in Australia.
- Rodents – complete the cycle for low growing plants.
not just flowers
More than 150 crops in this country depend on pollinators and more than 75% of the world’s flower plants depend on pollinators to accomplish reproduction. Beyond food supply, pollinator fertilized plants produce important fibers, spices, and medicines. In the United States, pollination produces $40 billion worth of products annually.