What are pollinators, and why do we need them? Read on to find out!
1. Pollinators provide about one of every three bites of food we eat.
Do you like honey? How about almonds? Raspberries? Peaches? Avocados? Pumpkins? Bananas? Thank a pollinator. We might not starve without them, but a plate of food would be a lot less palatable.
Nearly one-third of our food supply depends on insect pollination, most of which is accomplished by bees. Honeybees alone support approximately $15 billion worth of agricultural crops in the U.S. each year. And while it’s true that some plants are wind-pollinated, many fruits, nuts and vegetables rely on pollinators.
2. There’s more to a bumblebee’s buzz!
Certain plants keep their pollen stored away in a part of the stamen called the anther. Luckily, bumblebees and other buzz pollinators have a trick for gaining access to it.
When a bumblebee lands on a flower, it begins rapidly vibrating its thorax muscles. As the little bee buzzes, the force of the vibration expels the pollen from the anther. The bee can then scrape the particles into its basket and continue to the next flower.
A whopping 20,000 plant species are pollinated this way, including blueberries, cranberries, tomatoes and potatoes!
3. About 70 percent of all flowering plants depend on pollinators.
The fruits and seeds that result from insect pollination feed nearly one-quarter of all birds and mammals. But pollinators are not only critical for the production of food; they are also essential to most terrestrial ecosystems.
4. Bees aren’t the only pollinators.
The list of pollinators is long and includes hummingbirds, moths, wasps, beetles, bats and butterflies — just to name a few! Butterflies spread pollen as they travel from flower to flower, feeding on nectar. They tend to prefer flat, clustered flowers which provide a helpful landing pad.
5. Not all bees live in hives.
Honeybees and bumblebees live in social colonies, but most other bees are solitary and nest in the ground.
The U.S. alone is home to about 4,000 native bee species, such as the blue orchard bee, the alfalfa leafcutter bee and the alkali bee. And these bees are important pollinators, too!
Smithsonian researchers conduct biodiversity surveys to identify birds, plants and pollinators in the Shenandoah Valley region. One of their most exciting finds was in 2014 when they discovered a rusty patched bumblebee — a species that hadn’t been seen in the eastern U.S. for five years!
The rusty patched bumblebee’s population has disappeared from about 87 percent of its range, and in 2017 it became the first bee to be classified as endangered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
6. Pollinators are rapidly disappearing.
Why are bees and other pollinators in decline? Native bee populations are at risk from habitat loss and fragmentation, climate change, pesticides, pests and disease. More research will help scientists better understand these threats, identify the most susceptible species and focus conservation efforts where they can be the most beneficial.
7. You can help bees (and other pollinators)!
You don’t have to be an apiarist (aka beekeeper) or an entomologist (aka bug scientist) to help protect pollinators. Plant a pollinator garden with native flowers that bloom across different seasons, and offer nesting areas to help bees thrive. Attract hummingbirds to your home with this hummingbird nectar recipe, or make your backyard bird friendly with these helpful tips.
Have pollinators piqued your interest? Stop by the Great Ape House to see artist Matthew Willey painting a mural of hand-painted honeybees as part of his The Good of the Hive initiative, which raises awareness about the importance of pollinators. Visiting with kids? Don’t miss the brand new Me and the Bee playground, sponsored by Land O’Lakes.