Pollinators are more than just bugs that like flowers. These insects and animals are an essential part of gardening and the greater world when it comes to planting cultivation and care. Without pollinators, we wouldn’t have the agricultural industry that exists around the world. Every time you take a bite of your favorite fruit or veggie, a pollinator likely took part in getting that food to you.
This June, we are celebrating National Pollinator Week all month long with interesting and fun information about our native pollinators of Virginia. This week's blog focuses on the pollinators that fill in the gaps: birds, bats, and beneficial bugs.
While there are many species of birds that are responsible for much of the wildflower pollination worldwide, hummingbirds take the cake here in the United States. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the most common species in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. These quick, tiny birds are strongly attracted to bright colors and eat nectar from tubular flowers. When they eat the nectar from flowers, they also end up grabbing pollen from the flower. When the hummingbird zips from one flower to the next to eat, it is unintentionally pollinating as it goes. Hummingbirds are vital pollinators and planting pollinator-friendly plants attract a variety of birds, bees, beneficial bugs, and some pollinating mammals such as bats.
To learn more about hummingbirds and their many amazing qualities, see our blog on 10 Things You Didn't Know About Hummingbirds here.
Some species of bats are considered pollinators because they feed on the nectar and help spread seeds of the fruit they eat. Since bats are nocturnal creatures, most of their pollinating time happens during the night when they are eating. Night-blooming flowers benefit from this type of pollinator. Unfortunately, there are no species of bats in coastal Virginia that act as significant pollinators. Our local bats play an important role in pest control by eating thousands of insects a night. This helps other pollinators that may be attacked by insects in the daytime.
BENEFICIAL BUGS -
There are a large number of insects and animals that take up a heavy load of pollinating the world's plants that go unnoticed. Bees and butterflies are not the only insects that do the hard job of grabbing pollen as they eat, moths, ants, flies, and beetles are some of the most important insects for pollinating.
Minor Pollinating Bugs:
Like bats, moths are active nocturnally, which is important for pollinating night-blooming flowers. They are unfortunately limited by nocturnal behavior, therefore making them not as effective as other major pollinators.
Ants will crawl into flowers seeking nectar and can end up grabbing some pollen on the way. However, sometimes ants aren’t big enough to disturb and shake the pollen off the flower, therefore making them not as effective as some of the other major native pollinators.
Major Pollinating Bugs:
Considered second to bees, flies are probably the most underrated pollinator. They are not as efficient in transporting pollen as bees, but their vast numbers can make up the difference comparably because they pollinate many of the same plants and flowers as bees do. In some circumstances, flies can actually be more efficient than bees in pollinating orchards. Some species of flies actually look a lot like bees, but they are not as fuzzy and do not have as many wings. Overall, flies are picky pollinators but can have preferences depending on the shape of the flowers, their smells, and their color.
Beetles are the largest group of pollinators due to their volume in numbers. While not as efficient as bees and butterflies, the vast number of beetles can make up the difference just like flies. Beetles pollinate 52 plant species of plants in the country, including magnolias, due to their distinct scent and bowl-like shape. Ladybugs are one type of beetle that helps pollinate, but they also help plants in another way. Ladybugs are predators for many pests, which is why so many people release them into their gardens. Having ladybugs around is a natural way to help your pollinating plants be pest-free.
HOW CAN WE HELP THESE POLLINATORS? -
To help protect pollinators, it’s important to make sure to use organic and pollinator-friendly solutions to treat and feed our lawns and gardens. It’s also great to plant native, pollinator-friendly, nectar and host plants. Pesticides can be dangerous to the pollinator population, so take a minute to identify which bugs you are trying to eliminate. Are they seasonal? Are they destructive? Not all bugs are created equal and doing a little research is worth it to help make sure our plants are being pollinated. It saves you some green, in more ways than one. Not every solution will work for every garden, but being aware of the problem and being educated on strategies is a step in the right direction. Future generations will thank you for it!
Stay tuned for more information on pollinators next week with our blog on butterflies! In the meantime, freshen up your knowledge with our Pollinator Week Handbook here.