Insects that pollinate plants

Pests and Pollinators

While adult butterflies and moths are important pollinators, their larvae may be pests. The larvae of Cabbage White butterflies – an introduced speciesin the United States – are significant pests in Brassicaceae family plants (Snell-Rood & Papaj 2009, Cipollini 2002). The Eastern comma butterfly larva is a pest of hops (Dole 2003). The tobacco hornworm (larva of the sphinx moth) and the tomato hornworm (larva of the five-spot hawkmoth) can be significant pests of tobacco, tomato, potato, eggplant and pepper plants (Fraser et al. 2003). Clothes moth larvae can do damage by feeding on wool, felt, silk, fur, and feathers. Grain moths may be seen flying in kitchens and feed on flour or cereal grains.


Figure 1 Honey bee, Apis mellifera, is an introduced, naturalized North American generalist pollinator. Honey bees are eusocial, forming a high organized society where each colony has overlapping generations, one queen who mates with multiple males a week after she emerges as an adult, and female workers who cooperate in the rearing of her full-, ¾- and half-sisters. Courtesy of Jon Sullivan.
Bees are one of the largest groups of pollinators (Berenbaum 2007) and can be social or solitary animals. Honey bees (Figure 1) and bumble bees (Figure 2), common eusocial pollinators, are generalists that visit many plant species to obtain nectar and pollen. Honey bees, the most important crop pollinator, pollinate over 100 different fruits and vegetables, while bumble bees, which vibrate as they pollinate, are more efficient pollinators for plants such as tomatoes (Berenbaum 2007). Native pollinators assist in the pollination of native crops such as blueberries, squash, pumpkin, cucumbers, and cranberries but more research needs to be done to understand how to improve pollination rates and support healthy populations of native pollinators.

Figure 2 Bumble bees are some of the largest and interesting eusocial pollinators. This bumble bee, Bombus fervidus, the Golden Northern Bumble Bee, is pollinating lavender. Courtesy of John Baker.
Honey bees, first brought to North American by European settlers as a source of sweetener, have naturalized (Gullan & Cranston 2010). A honey bee colony has a single reproductive female and 10,000 – 60,000 female workers (Winston 1987). The workers pollinate as they forage. Today, most honey bees are found in managed colonies housed within apiaries (Figure 3). A honey bee colony lives through cold winters by clustering in a tight ball with individual bees vibrating wing muscles to generate heat. The colony will consume 18-27 kg of honey during the winter to supply the energy needed to generate temperatures up to 35oC. In warm climates, honey bees may build their comb outside to facilitate hive cooling in warm weather (Figure 4).

Figure 3a Managed honey bees are housed in apiaries and each colony occupies a wooden hive consisting of hive boxes and frames (a). The frames in the top box of the hive are filled with honey and harvested by beekeepers. To prevent bears from eating the brood and honey and skunks and raccoons from eating adult bees, this apiary is enclosed with an electrified fence. Courtesy of Nancy Ostiguy.


Figure 3b The frames can be removed to inspect for pests and disease and evaluate the health of the colonies (b). Nurse bees are caring for the capped brood. Courtesy of Nancy Ostiguy.

Figure 4 Honey bees will usually build comb inside a cavity but in warm climates they may build comb outside to facilitate cooling. This hive photographed in January in Kauai, Hawaii is at least 8 years old. During the summer months, when pollen and nectar are more readily available, the number of bees occupying the hive is significantly greater and the comb will not be visible due to the number of bees. Feral colonies are common in Kauai, unlike the mainland United States, because the varroa mite, the most significant pest of honey bees, has not been introduced to Kauai. Courtesy of Nancy Ostiguy.
Bumble bee colonies do not overwinter (Baer & Schmid-Hempel 2003). Each spring, mated queens emerge from hibernation to establish colonies. Each queen begins by locating a nest site and building wax pots (for nectar and pollen) and wax cells (for eggs). She will rear the first generation of adults who will take over the foraging and nest building tasks. The queen will continue to lay eggs and the colony will grow until late summer when reproductive males and females are reared and mate. All but the mated queens die before winter.
There are approximately 17,000 solitary bee species (Berenbaum 2007). Many are active as adults for only a short time each year and pollinate a narrow range of plants (Bosch & Kemp 2004). For example, the mason bees (~ 130 species in North America) pollinate blueberries, blackberries, and cherries (Figure 5). After a female mason bee mates she finds a tube-like structure and builds a mud wall at the end. Her first step is to make numerous trips (~ 25) to collect nectar and pollen, which she places at the end of the tube. Next she backs into the tube and lays an egg on top of the nectar and pollen. Her final step is to build a mud wall to partition the tube. She will continue these three steps until female eggs fill the rear of the tube and male eggs fill the front. During each of her 25 foraging trips per egg, a mason bee female will visit up to 75 flowers.

Figure 5 Mason bees are active in the spring and are excellent pollinators of a variety of crops including apples and blueberries. This Mason bee, Osmia cornifrons is the primary pollinator of apples in Japan and was introduced into the United States in 1977 by Suzanne Batra (USDA) for orchard pollination. Courtesy of Beatriz Moisset.
To pollinate the almond crop, ~ 1 million honey bee colonies are needed in California every February. The Maine blueberries require ~ 50,000 colonies and New York apples need ~ 30,000 colonies. With the significant decline of honey bee colonies, there is concern about honey bee survival and our dependence on honey bees for crop pollination (vanEngelsdorp et al. 2011). The cause of honey bee population decline is unknown, but many researchers suspect habitat degradation, parasites, disease, and pesticides, to be contributing causes (vanEngelsdorp et al. 2010, Singh et al. 2010).
Pollinator decline has not been limited to honey bees (Berenbaum 2007). Declines have been observed in bumble bee species, including a 96% decline in four North American species linked to Nosema bombi, a microsporidian (Cameron et al. 2011). Our knowledge of most native bumble bee and solitary bees is so limited that it is difficult to say conclusively if the suspected declines in populations or loss of species is occurring only at the regional level or if the declines are global (Berenbaum 2007).
An insect’s relationship with humans is beneficial, benign or pestiferous only because we have defined it as such. Therefore some insects can have more than one relationship with humans. Honey bees pollinate our crops but may be considered a pest because they can sting. Ants are unwanted guests if found in a house but are important decomposer organisms for the maintenance of soil fertility. Food, lumber, clean air and water and all the other goods and services derived from ecosystems would not exist without insects. Living in balance with insects and the other component of ecosystems will aid human survival and prosperity.

Insect Basics

Six legs, three body parts (HEAD, THORAX, and ABDOMEN), a hard EXOSKELETON, and compound eyes characterize insects. Most insects have a pair of antennae and two pairs of wings.

Insects grow by MOLTING, shedding their old exoskeleton, and growing a new, roomier one. After molting, and before the new exoskeleton hardens, insect bodies are soft and vulnerable.

Insects go through COMPLETE METAMORPHOSIS. Life cycle stages are EGG, LARVA, PUPA, and ADULT.

Butterflies, bees and beetles are insects whose larval forms are distinctly different from the adult form. Insects whose larval form resembles the adult, such as crickets and cockroaches, go through INCOMPLETE METAMORPHOSIS.

Spiders are NOT insects, but like insects spiders are arthropods (jointed legs, hard outer layer). They have eight legs, compound eyes and an exoskeleton. Some spiders have defensive URTICATING HAIRS which when thrown temporarily blind a predator’s eyes.

Insects can be HERBIVORES or CARNIVORES, and some are PESTS to humans. Mosquitoes feed on mammalian blood, aphids and scale insects infest our gardens, and wasps produce a nasty sting.

Most insects are BENEFICIAL. Bees, beetles, and butterflies POLLINATE our gardens and crops, making possible such foods as chocolate, nuts, and most fruits. Some insects are DECOMPOSERS, helping to breakdown dead material. Other insects, like ladybugs and praying mantis, feed on pest insects.

Flowers have adapted various attributes (COLOR, SCENT, SHAPE, SIZE) to attract specific pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. See pollinator syndromes for more information.

These pollinators sip NECTAR from the flower, collect POLLEN and carry this pollen to the next flower of the same species (or in some cases, the pollinator moves the pollen within the same flower), thus fertilizing the flower.

Quick! Name a pollinator! Did you say bee? Would it surprise you if we told you that bees aren’t the only pollinators? We’ve put together a list of our favourite pollinators, along with the flowers they are attracted to and the way they pick up pollen.

Click the Accept Mission button below to help protect pollinators!

Bees

Bees are the most important pollinator. Honeybees, for example, are responsible for pollinating over 110 crops that we eat and use every day, like tasty apples and delicious strawberries.

Favourite Flowers: Brightly coloured yellow and blue flowers that have places for bees to land. Bees cannot see red.
How they pick up pollen: Bees have tiny hairs on their bodies that pick up pollen when the bees go to drink nectar from a flower. http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/animals/bees.shtml

Hummingbirds

Being a hummingbird is hard work. They need to drink a lot of nectar to get enough energy to keep those tiny wings flapping.

Favourite Flowers: Red, orange or white tube-shaped flowers that are strong enough to support a hummingbird’s weight.
How they pick up pollen: They reach their long beaks into flowers in order to get the nectar and when they are finished drinking, their faces and beaks are dusted with pollen. http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/animals/birds.shtml

Butterflies

Butterflies pollinate the same way bees do but they can’t pick up as much pollen because their bodies are tall and slender.

Favourite Flowers: Brightly coloured flowers that are flat and have a place for butterflies to land
How they pick up pollen: When they go in for a drink of nectar, pollen gets stuck on their body. http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/animals/butterflies.shtml

Flies

A species of fly called a midge is one of the pollinators of the cocoa tree. Yup! These flies help give us yummy chocolate!

Photo Credit: Entomart

Favourite Flowers: Flowers that smell like rotting meat, carrion, dung, blood or fungus
How they pick up pollen: Although they don’t have the hairs that make pollination so easy for bees, flies still pick up some pollen on their body when they land to drink nectar http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/animals/flies.shtml

Black-and-white ruffed lemurs

The black-and-white ruffed lemur is the largest pollinator in the world!

Favourite Flowers: Anything fruity! These lemurs eat up to 130 different fruit species
How they pick up pollen: they are the primary pollinator of the traveller’s tree and it isn’t easy getting to its flowers. These lemurs have to open up the flower, reach in with their long snout and tongue. While they are eating, the pollen they brush up against gets stuck on their fur. http://www.arkive.org/black-and-white-ruffed-lemur/varecia-variegata/

Honey possum

A honey possum is from Australia and is about the size of a mouse. Even though they have honey in their name, they don’t actually eat it! They live off nectar. Favourite Flowers: Banksia and eucalyptus flowers.
How they pick up pollen: Their nose gets dusted with pollen when they drink the nectar. http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/animals/unusual.shtml

Beetles

There are more types of pollinating beetles than any other pollinator species. When these insects pick out a flower, they aren’t just after the nectar; they will eat petals and other parts as well.

Blue-tailed day gecko

This small lizard is found on the island Mauritius (located off the coast of Africa). It is also a key helper in spreading around plant seeds.

Photo Credit: Josh Noseworthy

Favourite Flowers: Plants from Mauritius, like Roussea simplex, an endangered plant species.
How they pick up pollen: When they go into eat nectar inside a flower, pollen gets stuck to the scales on their forehead. http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/roussea-simplex

Moths

Moths pollinate flowers that same way butterflies do but unlike butterflies, they continue pollinating after the sun goes down.

Favourite Flowers: Strong-smelling flowers that are white or dull in colour and have places for moths to land.
How they pick up pollen: They pick up pollen on their wings and legs when go to drink the plant’s nectar. http://www.fs.fed.us/wildflowers/pollinators/animals/moths.shtml

Bats

Bats are important pollinators in tropical places and deserts. They are responsible for pollinating over 300 fruits, including mangoes, bananas and guavas.

How Flowers Help the Environment

Given on special occasions or simply to tell another person how much you care, flowers continue to be appreciated as gifts and for their beauty. Whether it is Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, or just an ordinary day, a nice floral bouquet is bound to bring smiles to its recipient’s face. Yet while flowers are a great gift and add a splash of color, they also do much more for us. In fact, flowers help the environment around us in many ways.

Flowers appear on plants, which themselves are beneficial to our ecology and environment. As is well-known, plants produce much of the oxygen in our atmosphere through the process of photosynthesis. During the cycle of photosynthesis, plants absorb carbon dioxide from the air through their leaves. Then, using sunlight, water, and minerals from the soil, plants absorb nutrients and release oxygen into the air as a byproduct.

Studies have routinely found that with an increase in the number of plants comes improvement in air quality; so, planting trees, bushes, and flowers is a great way to help make the environment a better place. Many plants reproduce through their flowers when pollination gets the reproductive cycle underway, and seeds are produced. Those seeds are then harvested by human beings and planted elsewhere, or they are carried from one place to another by birds, bats, and other animals. Obviously, the more seeds that are produced and the more seeds that end up in the ground, the more plants there will be. So, in providing the seeds that make it possible to grow more plants, flowers benefit the environment by creating more carbon dioxide absorbing and oxygen-radiating plants.

Flowers also play a vital role in cleaning up other parts of our world. Over the past few decades, studies have shown that at least some plants and flowers cleanse the soil and water of contaminants. Sunflowers, for example, are very good at this. Sunflowers are able to absorb radioactive materials and other pollutants from the soil without much harm to the plant. This means that in areas where radiation has been high, plants such as sunflowers may be planted in order to help clean up the environment. In addition to cleaning the soil, flowers and other plants also cleanse water. The root systems of many flowers and plants that live in streams, lakes, and other bodies of water often serve as filters to remove toxic metals and other chemicals from the water.
When it comes to relying on flowers to help purify the environment, we must be careful not to increase pollution. Chemical fertilizers that are often used to help flowers grow end up adding new pollutants to the soil and water, effectively cancelling out any pollution-reducing capabilities that the planted flowers may add. Organic gardening methods are best for the environment, and this is as true of delicate flowers as it is of hardier trees. Switching to organic, pesticide-free gardening methods is one of the best ways to use flowers wisely for the benefit of the environment.
Although the benefits to the physical environment are important, flowers also benefit the social or personal environment of human beings. Researchers have seen improvement in the moods of patients who are exposed to flowers. Just being around flowering plants helps to lift a sour mood, improve a sad disposition, and alleviate the symptoms of conditions such as depression. Research also indicates that flowers can help to encourage compassion and similar emotions when people are in the presence of floral beauty

For more information on how flowers help the environment around us, please consult the following sources:

Written By Ava Rose.

Pollinators need you. You need pollinators.

Birds, bats, bees, butterflies, beetles, and other small mammals that pollinate plants are responsible for bringing us one out of every three bites of food. They also sustain our ecosystems and produce our natural resources by helping plants reproduce.

Pollinating animals travel from plant to plant carrying pollen on their bodies in a vital interaction that allows the transfer of genetic material critical to the reproductive system of most flowering plants – the very plants that

  • bring us countless fruits, vegetables, and nuts,
  • ½ of the world’s oils, fibers and raw materials;
  • prevent soil erosion,
  • and increase carbon sequestration

This nearly invisible ecosystem service is a precious resource that requires attention and support – – and in disturbing evidence found around the globe, is increasingly in jeopardy. Pollinator Partnership (P2) urges you know how this system supports you, and how your actions can help support healthy and sustainable pollination.

What is pollination?

When a pollen grain moves from the anther (male part) of a flower to the stigma (female part), pollination happens. This is the first step in a process that produces seeds, fruits, and the next generation of plants. This can happen through self-pollination, wind and water pollination, or through the work of vectors that move pollen within the flower and from bloom to bloom.

Who are the pollinators?

Birds, bats, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, small mammals, and most importantly, bees are pollinators. They visit flowers to drink nectar or feed off of pollen and transport pollen grains as they move from spot to spot.

Why are pollinators important?

Some of the many foods that rely on pollinators

Somewhere between 75% and 95% of all flowering plants on the earth need help with pollination – they need pollinators. Pollinators provide pollination services to over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1200 crops. That means that 1 out of every three bites of food you eat is there because of pollinators . If we want to talk dollars and cents, pollinators add 217 billion dollars to the global economy , and honey bees alone are responsible for between 1.2 and 5.4 billion dollars in agricultural productivity in the United States . In addition to the food that we eat, pollinators support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife .

WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT THEIR STATUS?

Pollinator populations are changing. Many pollinator populations are in decline and this decline is attributed most severely to a loss in feeding and nesting habitats . Pollution, the misuse of chemicals, disease, and changes in climatic patterns are all contributing to shrinking and shifting pollinator populations. In some cases there isn’t enough data to gauge a response, and this is even more worrisome.

How can you help?

Pollinators need help, but we know how to help them! P2 scientists and research partners that have been studying pollinators for over three decades have been able to show that conservation techniques work. If everyone – home owners, local governments, national governments, and private industry – made the effort we could change the future for pollinators and secure our own.

Donate

HABITAT AREA COUNTS

Adding natural habitat areas into farm systems works. Farms that are closer to natural habitat produce more crop yield because they attract more pollinators . Adding habitat to farms systems works too – farms that have turned a potion of their fields into green space have gained back more overall yield . Home owners can help too! Home gardens can and do attract pollinators , and in many cases suburbs and cities have been shown to have more diverse pollinator communities than nearby wildlands . Pollinators don’t seem to be phased by city life, as long as there are plots and patches of flowers they will be visited by hungry bees . Pollinator gardening near community gardens also increases urban agricultural yields . If you build it, they will come and help you get bigger and better crops too!

PLANT THE RIGHT PLANTS

Fortunately P2 has complied planting guides and an APP that helps you select the right plant for the right spot . Plant the right plants on highway rights of ways, farms, schools, home gardens, corporate landscapes and on public spaces. It really will matter for all of us.

DON’T STOP THERE!

  • Spread the word about the importance of pollinators.
  • Support Farmers and Beekeepers by buying local honey and locally produced organic foods.
  • Donate to support Researchers so that they can help fill in the blanks, the more we know the more we can help the bees!
  • Join Pollinator Partnership as a member.

The Supporting Science

  1. Ollerton J, Winfree R, and Tarrant S (2011) How many flowering plants are pollinated by animals? Oikos 120:321-326.
  2. Klein AM., Vaissiere B, Cane JH, Steffan-Dewenter I, Cunningham SA, Kremen C (2007) Importance of crop pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 274: 303–313;
  3. Buchmann S, Nabhan GP (1996) The Forgotten Pollinators. Island Press, New York.
  4. Gallai N, Salles JM, Settele J, Vaissiere BE (2009) Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecological Economics 68:810–821
  5. Losey JE, Vaughan M (2006) The economic value of ecological services provided by Insects. Bioscience 56: 311–323.
  6. Southwick EE, Southwick L (1999) Estimating the Economic Value of Honey Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) as Agricultural Pollinators in the United States. Journal of Economic Entomology 85:(3):13
  7. Costanza R, d’Arge R, de Groot R, Faber S, Grasso M, Hannon B, Limburg K, Naeem S, O’Neill RV, Paruelo J, Raskin RG, Sutton P, and van den Belt M. 1997. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387:254-260.
  8. National Research Council of the National Academies (2006) Status of Pollinators in North America. National Academy Press, Washington, DC.
  9. Kremen C, Williams NM, Thorp RW (2002) Crop pollination from native bees at risk from agricultural intensification. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA. 99:16812–16816.
  10. Klein AM., Vaissiere B, Cane JH, Steffan-Dewenter I, Cunningham SA, Kremen C (2007) Importance of crop pollinators in changing landscapes for world crops. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 274: 303–313.
  11. Morandin L, Winston ML (2005) Pollinators provide economic incentive to preserve natural land in agroecosystems. Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment 116(3–4):289–292
  12. Matteson KC, Ascher JS, Langellotto GA (2008) Bee richness and abundance in New York City urban gardens. Annual Reviews of the Entomological Society of America 101:140–150
  13. Winfree R, Griswold T, Kremen C (2007) Effect of human disturbance on bee communities in a forested ecosystem. Conservation Biology 21:213–223
  14. Cane J, Minckley R, Kervin L, Roulston T, Williams N (2006) Complex responses within a desert bee guild (hymenoptera: apiformes) to urban habitat fragmentation. Ecological Applications 16:632–644
  15. Wojcik VA, McBride JR (2011) Common factors influence bee foraging in urban and wildland landscapes. Urban Ecosystems, DOI 10.1007/s11252-011-0211-6.
  16. Wojcik, VA (2011) Resource abundance and distribution drive bee visitation within developing tropical urban landscapes. Journal of Pollination Ecology. 4(7): 48-56,
  17. Werrell PA, Langellotto GA, Morath SU, Matteson KC (2009) The Influence of Garden Size and Floral Cover on Pollen Deposition in Urban Community Gardens. Cities and the Environment. 2 (1) http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cate/vol2/iss1/6/
  18. Frankie GW, Thorp RW, Schindler M, Hernandez JL, Ertter B, Rizzardi M (2005) Ecological patterns of bees and their host ornamental flowers in two northern California cities. Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society 78:227–246;
  19. Frankie GW, Thorp RW, Hernandez JL, Rizzardi M, Ertter B, Pawelek JC, Witt SL, Schindler M, Coville R, Wojcik VA (2009) Native bees are a rich natural resource in urban California gardens. California Agriculture 63:113–120
  20. Pollinator Partnership (2011) BeeSmart Gardener. http://pollinator.org/beesmartapp.htm

Why Do We Love Flowers?

At Brant Florist we wanted to ask ourselves why we love flowers and it seems pretty obvious, they’re beautiful. The beauty, shape, colour and fragrance are the most obvious reasons why. But there are actually a lot more reasons and more questions to ask such as how come flowers make us happy? Why do we need flowers? And why do humans find them beautiful? Though sometimes the answers to those questions are very unique to each person, we can still better understand the simple beauty of a flower and why they bring us such joy.

What a Treat

How Come Flowers Make Us Happy?

Humans Love flowers for such a variety of reasons, but there’s the simple fact that they make us happy. It seems pretty obvious that the colours can make you feel happier. And this reaction is called Chromotherapy. Which uses colours to balance our energy. Whether that’s physical, emotional, spiritual or mental. This explains why we love to send flowers to show how much we love someone, we want to make that person feel happy and special.

We also send flowers to show we know that this might be a hard time for someone and we want to make them feel better. Flowers trigger dopamine in the brain, athletes have this reaction, which is what keeps bringing them back to the gym. This is why a lot of people love having flowers in their home or garden. And that’s why at Brant Florist we know that they make us feel happy! And that partly answers the question: why do we need flowers?

Brighten Your Day

Why do We Need Flowers?

There are so many reasons why we need flowers and one of them is environmental. Flowers are pollinated by bees than those bees help make our environment healthy. Without bees flowers wouldn’t survive and other plants as well that need this kind of pollination. Although there are plants don’t require pollination, we still need to remember and help protect our bee populations. The other reason is that they bring us joy, and we need joy in our lives. The next question we ask a lot is, why do humans find flowers beautiful?

Why Do Humans Find Flowers Beautiful?

When you look at a flower what is the first thing you notice? Usually it’s the colour and humans find colours beautiful and soothing. That’s part of what makes life to wonderful, seeing all the colours around us. Colours can make us feel not only happy but provide us with memories. In the winter these colours remind us of spring and warmth. Even in the winter we can find warmth in the soothing or vibrant colours that remind us of a warmer time. And if you’re thinking it’s time to send flowers to a loved one, or you want to treat yourself to a beautiful bouquet of flowers, you can order now.

Jumping for Joy

Order Flowers From Brant Florist

It’s so easy, you can look at our wide selection online and have them delivered right to your door or the recipients door. Or you can stop by our Brant St location located in downtown Burlington. We have professional florist that are ready to help you find what you need, contact us today.

First ever record of insect pollination from 100 million years ago

Today, more than 80% of plant species rely on insects to transport pollen from male to female flower parts. Pollination is best known in flowering plants but also exists in so-called gymnosperms, seed-producing plants like conifers. Although the most popular group of pollinator insects are bees and butterflies, a myriad of lesser-known species of flies, beetles or thrips have co-evolved with plants, transporting pollen and in return for this effort being rewarded with food.

During the last 20 years, amber from the Lower Cretaceous (110-105 my) found in the Basque country in Northern Spain has revealed many new plant and animal species, mainly insects. Here, the amber featured inclusions of thysanopterans, so-called thrips, a group of minute insects of less than 2 mm in length that feed on pollen and other plant tissues. They are efficient pollinators for several species of flowering plants.

Two amber pieces revealed six fossilized specimens of female thrips with hundreds of pollen grains attached to their bodies. These insects exhibit highly specialized hairs with a ringed structure to increase their ability to collect pollen grains, very similar to the ones of well known pollinators like domestic bees. The scientists describe these six specimens in a new genus (Gymnopollisthrips) comprising two new species, G. minor and G. major.

The most representative specimen was also studied with synchrotron X-ray tomography at the ESRF to reveal in three dimensions and at very high resolution the pollen grain distribution over the insect’s body.

The results are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) dated 14-18 May 2012.

The international team of scientists comprises: Enrique Peñalver and Eduardo Barrón from the Instituto Geológico y Minero de España in Madrid; Xavier Delclòs from the University of Barcelona; Andre and Patricia Nel from the Muséum national d’histoire naturelle in Paris; Conrad Labandeira from the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC; and Carmen Soriano and Paul Tafforeau from the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France. The amber samples were from the collection of the Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Álava (Spain).

The pollen grains are very small and exhibit the adherent features needed so that insects can transport them. The scientists conclude that this pollen is from a kind of cycad or ginkgo tree, a kind of living fossil of which only a few species are known to science. Ginkgos trees are either male or female, and male trees produce small pollen cones whereas female trees bear ovules at the end of stalks which develop into seeds after pollination.

For which evolutionary reason did these tiny insects, 100 million years ago, collect and transport Gingko pollen? Their ringed hairs cannot have grown due to an evolutionary selection benefitting the trees. The benefit for the thrips can only be explained by the possibility to feed their larvae with pollen. This suggests that this species formed colonies with larvae living in the ovules of some kind of gingko for shelter and protection, and female insects transporting pollen from the male Gingko cones to the female ovules to feed the larvae and at the same time pollinate the trees.

Only amber can preserve behavioral features like pollination in such rich detail over millions of years. 100 million years ago, flowering plants started to diversify enormously, eventually replacing conifers as the dominant species. “This is the oldest direct evidence for pollination, and the only one from the age of the dinosaurs. The co-evolution of flowering plants and insects, thanks to pollination, is a great evolutionary success story. It began about 100 million years ago, when this piece of amber fossil was produced by resin dropping from a tree, which today is the oldest fossil record of pollinating insects. Thrips might indeed turn out to be one of the first pollinator groups in geological history, long before evolution turned some of them into flower pollinators,” concludes Carmen Soriano, who led the investigation of the amber pieces with X-ray tomography at the ESRF.

Why Pollinators are Important & How We Can Help

NOTE from Matt & Betsy: Today we’re thrilled to share content with you from one of our brand new writers! Please join us in welcoming Emry Trantham, whose passion and interest in the DIY lifestyle attracted us to her. We hope you enjoy the fabulous articles she’ll be contributing to DIY Natural!

Prior to the last few years, I hardly remember hearing the word “pollinators” outside of a few science lessons in middle school. Now that I’m more immersed in the world of gardening, though, it’s a term with which I’ve become quite familiar.

Between the ever-mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder affecting honeybees and general habitat destruction for most other pollinators, all of us are hearing about pollinators more frequently than ever before. We’re beginning to realize that pollinators are in trouble, and their future is in our hands. We can’t live in a world without pollinators, but the good news is that every one of us can help make this world a better place for them to live.

Why Pollination and Pollinators are Important

Pollination, quite simply, is the way many plants reproduce. Since plants are immobile, they require assistance with their reproduction, and that’s where pollinators come in. They take pollen from one plant to another, thereby making plant reproduction possible.

Pollination isn’t necessary to make flowers grow and bloom, but it is necessary for many plants to grow fruit. If many plants aren’t properly pollinated, they cannot bear fruit or produce new seeds with which to grow new plants. On a small scale, a lack of pollination results in a fruitless tree; on a large scale, it could mean a shortage to our food supply.

Not all the foods we eat require pollinators, but many of them do. Here are just a few of the foods that we wouldn’t be able to enjoy without pollinators:

  • Blueberries
  • Almonds
  • Cranberries
  • Tomatoes
  • Grapes
  • Coconuts
  • Avocados
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots
  • Apples

If you try to eat a whole foods diet, you’re probably aghast at the thought of losing those foods. Most of these are on my grocery list every week, and they’re vital to a balanced diet. And, seriously, what would we make our green smoothies with if we didn’t have coconut milk and blueberries?

Types of Pollinators

You probably already know that honeybees are pollinators, but you may not know that they aren’t even native to North America. In fact, they were imported from Europe in the 17th Century. (Source 3) While honeybees are certainly an important part of American agriculture today, they are far from being the only pollinators that we depend on. Other pollinators include:

  • Bumblebees
  • Mason Bees
  • Butterflies
  • Moths
  • Bats
  • Flies
  • Beetles
  • Hummingbirds
  • Wasps
  • Mosquitoes (that’s right, mosquitoes)

With a list so diverse, you might be surprised that we are facing a shortage of pollinators. How can so many seemingly unrelated creatures be in trouble at the same time? The answer to that is complex.

Why Pollinators Need Our Help

One of the biggest obstacles that pollinators are facing today is the use (and misuse) of certain pesticides. Pesticides in and of themselves aren’t new; we’ve been using them for generations. Why are they just now affecting the pollinators so negatively? That has to do with the type of pesticides we are using now, many of which are “neonicotinoids.” That’s a long, hard-to-prounounce word used to describe a class of pesticides that were at first considered improvements over older, more toxic pesticides.

When the neonicotinoid class was registered with the Environmental Protection Agency in 1984, the pesticides were lauded for being less toxic to mammals than many of their predecessors. However, we are beginning to see now that they are affecting pollinators in drastic ways. According to the EPA, “…neonicotinic residues can accumulate in pollen and nectar of treated plants and may represent a potential exposure to pollinators. Adverse effects data as well as beekill incidents have also been reported, highlighting the potential direct and/or indirect effects of neonicotinic pesticides” (Source 1).

With the increase of neonicotinoid pesticide usage has come a decrease in healthy pollinators. (If you’re interested in more information about neonicotinoid usage and how it affects pollinators, please visit The Xerces Society.)

While pesticides are part of the reason that pollinator populations are in decline, there are certainly other aggravating factors. Habitat loss is another issue facing our pollinators. Perfectly weedless, well-mowed lawns have taken the place of flowered meadows and woodland borders. Native vegetation is being replaced with non-native landscaping. The human world is ever-expanding, ever-growing, ever-destructing. When we remove food-sources and nesting sites for pollinators, we make it harder for them to thrive. This is especially harmful to migratory species that often travel thousands of miles between their habitats. When food sources are few and far-between, many insects are less likely to make the distance. (Unfortunately for pollinators, they can’t bring their homemade energy bars, trail mix and BPA-free water bottles with them when they travel.)

How We Can Help

I know the future doesn’t look great for pollinators. They’re being slowly weakened and killed off by pesticides, they’re losing their natural habitats, and their numbers are decreasing like never before. And certainly, the gravity of this situation cannot be underestimated.

But there is good news, too. We humans have put the pollinators in this position, and we can and will help get them out of it. An action so seemingly small as planting a pollinator garden can make all the difference for the pollinator population in your backyard, and next week we’ll discuss how to make your home the perfect habitat for pollinators.

(Spoiler alert: there will be flowers and maybe even some rotten logs. But I don’t want to give too much away just yet.)

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References & Recommended Reading:

1. Neonicotinoids, from epa.gov
2. Are Neonicotinoids Killing Bees?, found on Xerces.org
3. Honey Bees Not Native to North America, www.agriculture.perdue.edu
4. Disappearing Bees & Pollinators, from Organic Consumers Association
5. Threats to Pollinators, from US Fish & Wildlife Service

Bees and pollination are important factors for biodiversity as well as for the economy

Honey is a wonderfully tasty and healthy food. However, bees have a more important activity: the pollination of flowers. Without pollination by bees (or other insects), 75% of our food plants would not yield any fruits at all. Common trees in our orchard gardens like apples, pears, cherries, plums, peaches, apricots, oranges, lemons and others; but also, vegetables like peas, beans, tomatos, paprikas, cucumbers, pumpkins etc. each requires pollination. According to a study from England, if there were no pollinating insects it would cause about 500 million GBP loss per year for the U.K. crop production. Although the role of honey bees in pollination is crucial they share the task with other insects that are flying from flower to flower in order to collect or just consume the nectar. Among them, wild bees, bumblebees, butterflies, moths, bee flies, flower beetles are the most known groups. Less known fact, that beside the existence of the pollinator insects, their numerosity or occurrence is an important factor too, because it was evidenced that those flowers which were visited more frequently by bees, produced bigger and more regular shaped fruits. This can be best observed in the case of our fruit trees, but it seems true for the emergence of the wild plants’ fruits as well.

Bees and the kind of pollinators listed previously are not only responsible for pollinating the economically beneficial plants, but they are the ones who fulfil the insemination of thousands of insect-pollinated plants that are essential components of the vegetation. Without these pollinator insects, these wildflowers could not ripen seeds, which would threaten their survival in the long run.

The wane of insect-pollinated plants would be followed by the spread of wind pollinated species undoubtedly. This ultimately would lead to a decrease in biodiversity, and thus the weakening of the natural ecosystems. Moreover, the overgrowth of wind-pollinated plants would mean a significant increase of pollen concentration, because these plants release very high number of pollen grains to the air thus ensuring transportation of their pollen to the conspecifics’ flowers with the help of air movements. So it’s obvious now, that bees and other pollinator insects have a major role not just in the field of economically beneficial plants, but in maintaining the stability of the biosphere as a whole. Numerous great initiatives started lately to protect bees and their pollinator counterparts – because they also help us and it deserves a return. One of these kinds of actions at Hegyvidék aims to create a bee pasture on a meadow, which is wedged in the city’s densely built part, and used to be cut short regularly. Only two reapings are planned for every year, thus ensuring the plants to get to the phase of bloom and seed-growing. Beside that the dissemination of indigenous melliferous wildflower seeds helps increase the richness of the plant species. Currently the experiment takes place in a fairly small area, but if the method works all right, the bee and butterfly pastures can show up in gardens of individual citizens and apartment houses as well.

Author: dr Péter Csontos, Botanist

Which Plants Are Pollinated By Which Insects?

Which Plants Are Pollinated By Which Insects?

Most people know that plants are pollinated in a variety of different ways. The most popular plant pollinators are certainly bees and butterflies, but many other flying and even non-flying insects pollinate plants as well. Even mammals, like bats, are common pollinators. Other mammals, like marsupials, and non-mammal vertebrates, like birds and even lizards are known to pollinate plants, although not as frequently as insects. The term “entomophily” is used in reference to insects that spread pollen.

Beetles, for example, count as the largest group of insect pollinators on earth because they are so diverse as a species. Beetles are known to pollinate magnolias and water lilies. The more popular insect pollinators, honey bees, travel from flower to flower feeding on nectar and gathering pollen. The nectar gives bees the energy necessary for long flights. Once a bee lands on a new flower, the pollen it is carrying will land on the stigma of the new flower. United States honey bees are also a major part of the agricultural industry, as they are shipped to apple and almond farms all over the US for their pollination services. This aspect of the agricultural business is called “pollination management”, and it brings more than thirty thousand bees hives to the apple orchards of New York each year and fifty thousand honey bee hives to blueberry farms in Maine each year. On the other hand, bumblebees are often used for tomato cultivation within greenhouses.

Many people, even some experts, are convinced that wasps cannot pollinate flowers because, unlike bees, a wasp’s body does not include the bodily hairs that carry pollen to other flowers. However, some experts disagree. Recent studies concerning wasp pollination have demonstrated that wasps are capable of pollinating orchids and figs. Basically, any insect, rodent, or even mammal that is attracted to the taste of flower nectar will, at least eventually, wind up pollinating a flower. Pollination is not too hard a task to pull off considering that flower stigmas often make contact with pollen just by the force wind alone.

How could beetles pollinate flowers if they are ground dwelling and cannot reach a flower’s pollen?

Insect pollinated flowers possess the following characteristics:

  • Large flowers with brightly colored petals to attract insects.
  • Flowers are usually sweet smelling or fragrant with nectar present.
  • Stigmas are usually small, compact and do not protrude out of the flower.
  • Stamens are not pendulous and are located within the interiors of the flower, so that pollen can stick on the backs of pollinators as they brush against the anthers.
  • Nectar guides present to guide the pollinators towards the nectar.

Different species of flowers may be pollinated by the same insect. In fact, the Oriental Honeybee has been observed to pollinate as many as 29 species of flowers! (source : 2013 article on bees and wasps as insect pollinators). The pictures shows Oriental Honey bees visiting flowers of 3 species of plants:

  1. Top – Rose-flowered Jatropha / Jatropha integerrima (taken in Alexandra Canal Park)
  2. Middle – Creeping Daisy /Sphagneticola trilobata (taken in Hort Park)
  3. Bottom – Thailand Powderpuff / Combretum constrictum (taken just outside Kay Siang Road, the old MOE building)

1. Orchids The Orchid family, Orchidaceae is the largest family of flowering plants in the world. It is estimated that 10% of all flowering species are orchids! Orchid plants rely on insect pollinators such as bees, and hence have:

  • large, attractive and fragrant petals and sepals (3 sepals and 3 petals).
  • highly modified third lower petal, called the labellum/lip is usually highly modified to attract insects.
  • nectar guides to guide the insect to the 2 pollen sacs (called pollinia in orchids).

Shown below is a VIP orchid, Dendrobium Hifikipunye Pohamba bred in National Orchid Garden, Singapore Botanical Gardens. Note the pair of white pollen sacs and the nectar guides in the labellum.

Shown next is a native Singapore orchid, Arundina graminifolia or Bamboo Orchid (photographed on the grounds of Gardens by the Bay). Observe its nectar guides present on the beautiful and elaborate labellum.

2. Blue Butterfly Pea / Clitoria ternatea The native tropical plant, Clitoria ternatea or Blue Butterfly Pea is insect-pollinated. Its flowers are bisexual, solitary or in pairs and blue or white (source : Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research, NUS). The flowers produce a blue dye commonly used in coloring glutinous rice cakes. A group of NTU scientists discovered a new molecule in this plant which can join together chains of amino acids. This enzyme molecule is named Butelase-1 after the plant’s Malay name Bunga Telang. Read the article published on Oct 2014. Here are its flowers photographed at Alexandra Canal Linear Park. The plant is a climber. The blue petals are initially enclosed by green sepals in the bud stage as shown below.

A dissected flower reveals a total of 5 petals comprising the corolla of each flower:

  • 1 Standard petal
  • 2 Wing petals
  • 2 Keel petals

The wing and keel petals enclose the male (androecium) and female (gynoecium) organs while the large standard petal attracts and provides a landing pad for pollinators. As it is a bisexual flower, it has male and female organs both in each mature flower. The sexual reproductive organs are enclosed by the two smaller yellowish keel petals and which in turn are covered by two slightly larger purple-tipped wing petals.

The green parts are the sepals (calyx). The yellow anthers with filaments, and surrounded by the stigma and style, can be seen (pointing at three o’clock).

3. Spanish Shawl / Dissotis rotundifolia and Sendudok / Melanstoma malabathricum Both plant species belong to the same family (Melastomataceae) and have insect-pollinated bisexual flowers consisting of:

  • 5 pink petals (Spanish Shawl are deeper pink compared to Sendudok)
  • 10 stamens – 5 stamens are larger with curved purple ends and 5 stamens are shorter with straight yellow ends. Notice the two lobes at the end of each short stamen.
  • 1 carpel (curved in the centre)

The flower shown below is that of Spanish Shawl. Note the distinctive characteristic of 3 prominent veins in each leaf. The leaves of Spanish Shawl is rounder than Sendudok.

The buds of the Spanish Shawl look like that below:

The Sendudok or Melanstoma malabathricum (mistakenly called Singapore Rhodendron) flowers and shrubs are commonly seen along the roadside and parks. The flowers are insect-pollinated by bees, such as carpenter bees. The photographs below taken at Hort Park show the plant and its fruits (top) and the carpenter bee visiting it (bottom).

The fruits are highly sought after by birds! Find out more in this webpage maintained by the Bird Ecology Study Group.

4. Rose-Flowered Jatropha / Jatropha Integerrima The Rose-Flowered Jatropha, also known as Spicy Jatropha or Peregrina is a shrub that is planted widely in parks in Singapore due to its attractive flowers with red petals and anthers (its anther lobes are lined with yellow pollen grains). It is observed to be pollinated by Oriental Honeybees in Alexandra Canal Park.

It has unisexual flowers, i.e. separate female (top) and male (middle) flowers on the same plant (bottom). The gynoecium of each female flower consists of 3 carpels. The androecium of each male flower consists of 10 stamens.

5. Spider Lily / Hymenocallis speciosa

The spider lily is a common ornamental plant that is seen in many parks and gardens, including Fu Shan garden. It is insect-pollinated. The species has white flowers (with a tinge of green). Click here to learn more about other spider lilies around the world.

Each flower consists of 6 narrow, curved tepals (comprising of 3 petals and 3 sepals) attached to a shallow cup that is formed from the fused stamens. The first name Hymenocallis is derived from the Greek words ὑμήν (hymen), meaning “membrane”, and καλός (kalos), meaning “beautiful”. The flower is bisexual with 6 stamens and 1 central carpel. The 6 stamens give the flower the appearance of the legs of a spider!

The style of each flower is actually very long and runs along a green tube that protects it. The style is connected to the ovary at the base.

6. Blue Trumpet Vine / Thunbergia laurifolia

The Blue Trumpet Vine (it belongs to a family of plants commonly known as “Morning Glory”) is a climber that grows well and flowers easily in Singapore’s climate. It is observed to be visited/probably pollinated by Carpenter bees. The photograph below is taken in a private estate near Alexandra Canal Park. The bee squeezes in and hence would brush against the stamens and pick up the pollen grains.

It is a bisexual flower with 1 central carpel (Top Photo) and 4 stamens (Bottom Photo).

7. Cupid’s Shaving Brush / Emilia sonchifolia

This native weed is found through Singapore and is present almost everywhere, wherever there is a small patch of grass you will find this plant! It is member of the sunflower family and hence the flowers are usually clustered together in an inflorescence.

Each flower consists of 5 stamens and 1 carpel. It is insect-pollinated and Pale Grass Blue Butterfly has been observed feeding on it and probably aids it in pollination. The photograph was taken in Admiralty Park.

After successful pollination/fertilisation, the white powerpuff-looking fruits will be wind-dispersed. See photograph below taken at Alexandra Canal Park.

8. Cannonball Tree

The Cannonball tree is insect pollinated with highly-modified male reproductive structures (androecium) which comprises of pink and yellow tipped stamens and “cannonball-like” fruits.

The flowers are strongly scented to attract pollinators such as bees. Each tree can bear 1000 flowers and 150 fruits at each time! It is native to the rain forests of Central and South America. You can spot a Cannonball tree at next to Blk 823 in Fu Shan Garden, just across the road from the main gate of Riverside Secondary School.

9. Crepe Ginger / Costus Speciosus

The Crepe Ginger is an insect-pollinated plant species that is native to the Malay Peninsula of Southeast Asia. Its common name of Crepe Ginger is derived from the crepe-like flower petals.

It has red ginger-like leaves arranged around the stem and beautiful white flowers on the heads. It has been observed to be pollinated by bees. The flowers shown was photographed in Hort Park.

10. Alligator Flag / Thalia geniculata This plant is an animal-pollinated ornamental plant (native to North America) that is used for phytoremediation purposes in canals and ponds in Singapore, such as Alexandra Canal and the pond (next to Sakura restaurant) in Admiralty Park.

Phytoremediation refers to the process whereby plants are able to absorb toxins through its roots and thus help to remove poisonous chemicals such as fertiliser wastes, insecticides and heavy metals from water.

The 2 long white dangling “petals” actually bracts (modified leaves). The purple flowers have 3 petals each. It is pollinated by birds.

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