After spending Tuesday searching my garden for various flowers, I started thinking about why these flowers need to be so colorful in the first place. It reminded me that although flowers scattered across a landscape are the picture of serenity for us, for plants it is a war zone. Each blossom trying to outshine one another for the attention of nearby pollinators. It is a matter of success or failure of future generations. So who are the flowers in our gardens trying to attract? And why is pollination so essential for survival?
The first two animals I think of when I hear the word pollinator are bees and butterflies, but I have to remember that flies, moths, beetles, wasps, birds, bats, and even small mammals all contribute to pollination. For this post, I am going to focus on butterflies and bees because those are the two that I notice the most, but let us remember that there are other key players involved in global pollination.
In a very brief summary, pollination is essential for the survival of many of earth's species - both plant an animal. Pollination is the way that flowers and most plants reproduce. Without this process, we would not have much of the basic food that we need to continue thriving as a society. Things like fruits, vegetables, seeds and nuts would be essentially non-existent. Many of the pollinators on the planet are declining due to a changing climate, lack of resources, and even disease. To learn more about how pollinators help us and how we can help them please check out https://www.pollinator.org/bigger-than-bees.
Some dates to keep in mind to show your support for the world's pollinators are World Bee Day on May 20th and Pollinator Week starting June 22 through June 28! Although, lets be honest, the hardy workers that are the world's pollinators should be in our thoughts at least once a day.
THE BEES KNEES
For many of us, the first thing we want to do when we see a bee is scream and run away. In reality, we should be appreciating them and taking a moment to thank them for everything to do for us. Without bees, our world would look like an entirely different place, and possibly one that wouldn't be able to sustain human life. If we take a minute and examine the different parts of a bee to see how they do their jobs, they actually become quite cute!
There are many reasons to be thankful for bees collecting pollen, but one that is very specific to bees is the production of honey. This delicious, syrupy sweetener is a direct byproduct of bee pollen collection. They take the pollen back to their hives, which gets moved through the bee hierarchy and eventually becomes food for the entire colony in the form of honey! Beekeepers are then able to safely and respectfully harvest honey so that humans can also enjoy the delicious product. Thank you bees for honey!
THE BUTTERFLY EFFECT
Another notable pollinator is the butterfly! Perhaps the most recognizable of them is the Monarch, but there are over 500 different species of butterflies within the U.S. and over 15,000 species worldwide. These creatures are most well known for their vibrant colors as they effortlessly glide through the sky on hot summer days.
Just like bees, butterflies are built for pollination, but slightly differently than bees, butterflies are actually after the nectar of the flower, not the pollen. This is why they have a proboscis. A proboscis is a straw like tube that unwinds from the front of a butterfly's head, where their mouth would be. This allows butterflies to suck up pools of nectar even from the deepest of flowers. Nectar is a food source for butterflies and provides them with the sugars and energy they need to fly long distances without tiring out. Not only do butterflies enjoy the nectar of flowers, but they have also been known to get energy from rotting fruits and even animal dung!
Although butterflies do not collect pollen on purpose, as they fly from flower to flower they inadvertently collect and spread pollen resulting in pollination! Next time you see a butterfly fluttering around your garden, or in a park, see if you can watch it land on a flower. When it does, keep an eye out for its unwinding proboscis!
Here are photos of some pollinators NRT staff have seen around Sheep Pasture and other green spaces! See if you can identify them as being bees, butterflies, or something else!
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