Pollinators of the Plant World
Pollinators are a part of our existence on Earth. They are the carriers of plant life around the world and there are so many different kinds of pollinators. Pollinators, defined, are “agent[s] that pollinate flowers.” These agents collect pollen, nectar, and other small detriments from the plants to other flowers and then to different areas. Some pollinators have tiny, spine-like hairs on their legs that collect pollen because they stick to the legs and then the pollen falls off as the pollinator visits other gardens or even regions. Some spread the nectar that they intake and sometimes pollinators still spread pollen, despite the fact that they don’t have the tiny hairs. All of these pollinators have different functions, life cycles, habitats, and needs for flowers. Some pollinators are attracted by color and some are attracted by smell. Pollinators are unique from other insects and birds, and they all play a key role in the process or pollination for our survival.
(A bee pollinating a small pink flower)
One of the most important pollinators is bees. There are many different types of bees from bumblebees to wasps. They are the pollinators that have the tiny spines on their legs. These tiny hairs are sticky and can collect pollen which the bees consume and use to feed their colonies with. Bees also collect nectar to feed on for themselves and their colonies, too. Female bees are the only ones that collect nectar and pollen and bees can travel to a new area within 100 feet or even 1 mile. Bees are also very different depending on the region and type they are. Some types of bees live in small colonies in hives, some live in dwellings and snags, some burrow into low lying plants like clovers, and some even live in empty snail shallows if they are independent. They are one of the most important groups because they are the most abundant of the pollinators.
(A fly pollinating small white and green flowers)
Another group of pollinators are flies. Flies don’t seem like the type of insect to pollinate, but like bees, they have the tiny spines on their legs and collect nectar and pollen. There are 71 different families of flies that pollinate and visit flowers. They are often mistaken for bees and wasps. Some types of pollinator flies are flower flies, bee flies, and small-headed flies. Most of them have short, tubular sucking mouth parts and they are usually attracted to shallow and flat flowers to accommodate for their mouth shape. Flies are often attracted to strawberries, onions, and carrots, too. Flies can live in cool and warm climates, and they also play a big role in pollination, despite the misconception and confusion of their short-lived purpose.
(A butterfly pollinating a white flower)
The next group of pollinators, that I explored, are butterflies and moths. Butterflies are one of the prettiest insects and people love them, but their counterpart, the moths, are just as important when it comes to pollination. Butterflies, as adults, consume nectar. They do not purposefully collect pollen for pollination because they do not have the tiny spines, but sometimes the pollen sticks to them a little bit and they take this pollen to their next destination. Butterflies do not make nests for their young and they are independent when not migrating as groups to southern areas of the world. Butterflies have long tongue like tubular mouths that can reach into deeper flowers and they are most comfortable in warm and sunshiny weather. In the mornings, they lay on warm rocks, walls, and paths to warm themselves up for their daily journey
(A moth pollinating purple flowers)
Moths are also very important, like butterflies. Some eat seeds, organic matter, wool, and silk. Despite another stereotype, there are very, very few moths that will eat your old clothing in the attic and create holes in all of your fabric. Most moths do not have functional mouths or digestive tracts as adults, and they spread pollen that sticks to their bodies. Our native yucca plant is solely dependent on the moths for pollination and growth. Moths may not be as effective at pollinating like butterflies, but they still affect the plant life around the world.
(A scarab beetle pollinating a small sunflower)
One of the last pollinator groups I researched were beetles. Beetles were also insects I would not expect to pollinate flowers, like my prediction with flies. Despite my belief, they are the greatest diversity of pollinators and they are attracted to bowl-shaped flowers with stamens and pistils. Some beetles consume sap from trees and others consume pollen and nectar from flowers. Some beetles pollinate flowers with the mess-and-soil method when they eat the flowers. Nectar and pollen sticks to them and they spread it on their slow-moving journey. Beetles are very important in deserts and in humid areas.
(Top: A hummingbird collecting nectar from a red flower, Bottom: Birds collecting sunflower seeds)
The very last pollinators are birds. Small birds are known to eat the seeds from specific flowers and plants. Sparrows, at our school, eat the seeds from our large-growing sunflowers and they sometimes drop the seeds in different areas and regions. Hummingbirds are very important pollinators because they have long beaks that can get into deep flowers so they can consume nectar. They spread nectar when they go to other flowers and the pollen may stick to them and fall off as they move into different gardens, areas, or even regions.
(People celebrating nature)
Without pollinators, the flower and plant population would dwindle down to nothing and we would a lot of valuable assets for human life. Without trees, plants, vegetables, and other plants, we would run out of some of our precious natural resources. Without plants that create food for people, we would starve to death or eat all the animals and other resources too quickly. But this would also deplete the animal life, too, because they also feed on vegetation. We would also lose the connection between plants and people. People need plants for Oxygen and plants need us for Carbon Dioxide. The pollinators are the middle man and make life possible without strain or extra precautions to survive that may be just as detrimental for the Earth or us.