Top 10 Coolest Pollinators

Posted by Beth Watson on

Top 10 Coolest Pollinators

Pollinators are vital to creating & maintaining the habitats and ecosystems that many animals rely on for food and shelter, including humans. Here's a list of some of the most interesting & maybe not quite as well-known useful pollinators from around the world:

1.  BEES are our most important pollinator species. They're the SUPERSTARS of pollination! They are probably the first creatures anyone would think of if asked to name an animal responsible for pollinating flowers. Approximately one third of our food supplies is dependent on pollination, and bees are responsible for most of it. That's why it is such a problem that bee populations have been suffering for the past several years. With bees dying out, the effect on food production could be catastrophic. Scientists have not reached a consensus regarding the cause, but recent studies strongly suggest a particular class of insecticides is to blame, with other contributing factors. When bees fail to pollinate, it means bigger trouble than most people realize.

2.  HUMMINGBIRDS aren't the only pollinating birds, but they're the most well-known. Small and fast, hummingbirds can flit about from flower to flower like insects and as the only birds that can hover, they're well suited to the task of drinking nectar. But there's lots about hummingbirds that scientists still don't understand. Example: Why do hummingbirds almost exclusively pollinate flowers that hang upside down? Using artificial flowers to feed the birds, researchers were surprised to find that drinking from upside-down flowers actually required more energy than drinking from horizontal flowers. Their best guess is that right side-up flowers are more exposed to rain, diluting their sweet, delicious nectar.

3.  BUTTERFLIES pollinate the same way bees do but they can’t pick up as much pollen because their bodies are long and slender. They can get the job done nonetheless. They also enjoy a number of advantages those busy bees can't claim. For one thing, they can see red, which bees cannot, sending them after more brightly colored blooms. Also, butterflies emit certain pheromone scents that attract the opposite sex. These scents are very similar to those of certain flowers — unsurprisingly, flowers that other butterflies are drawn to.

4.  When the sun goes down, BATS come out to continue pollination while the day shift sleeps. Bats are important pollinators of cacti and agave in deserts, and of all kinds of vegetation in rain forests. The next time you go grocery shopping for fruits and vegetables, you should thank bats, since they're responsible for pollinating avocados, bananas, carob, cashews, cloves, dates, durian, figs, guavas, mangoes, peaches, and so much more.

5.  FLIES are great pollinators. 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.

6.  LEMURS probably aren't the first animals that come to mind when you think of pollination, but many lemur species pollinate flowers. Black-and-white ruffed lemurs are the largest pollinators on Earth. Other lemur pollinators include dwarf lemurs, mongoose lemurs, and red-ruffed lemurs. Red-ruffed lemurs eat a diet of fruit and pollen (and some leaves, when nectar is scarce during dry seasons.) When they stick their noses into flowers for nectar, pollen collects on their snouts, and they transfer it from flower to flower. Sadly, the trees that are essential to the lemurs' diet are also desirable for logging purposes, so deforestation is a significant problem for these animals.

7.  In Australia, where more typical pollinators are scarce, the continent's POSSUMS have to step up to do the job. The honey possum, in particular, subsists on a diet made up exclusively of nectar and pollen. Honey possums survive on a number of different flowers, but favor various banksia plants. When the possums climb the plants and use their long, brush-like tongues to eat the nectar, pollen collects on their fur, which they bring to other flowers as they continue to eat. Other possum species, like pygmy possums and sugar gliders, act as pollinators also.

8.  Bees & hummingbirds get all the glory and attention for pollinating flowers, but BEETLES are the real workhorses, pollinating more flowering plants — 88 percent — than any other animal. As some beetle species are hundreds of millions of years old, they are also some of the first creatures to ever pollinate plants and continue to pollinate the oldest flowers still in existence. Research has demonstrated that beetles are capable of color vision, but they are more attracted to flowers by scent.

9.  New research in the last decade has shown that the contribution of LIZARDS to pollination has been underestimated. Scientists theorize that the mutual relationship between lizards and flowers is limited to islands on which lizard populations are both denser than on the mainland, and where they have fewer predators. Like other pollinators, the dozens of species of geckos and skinks that pollinate flowers may not always be seeking the pollen itself, but rather the nectar of the flowers (these flowers, produce more nectar than is typical as a "reward" for the pollinator) or the fruit. But once they feast, they end up carrying pollen away with them anyway, or at least make the flowers more accessible for insect pollinators to do the job.

10.  Butterflies seem to get a bulk of the credit as pollinators, but MOTHS do their share of carting pollen between flowers, too. Most moths are nocturnal. These night-flying pollinators tend to visit white, fragrant flowers, such as jasmine. Hawk and sphinx moths are probably the most visible moth pollinators. Many gardeners are familiar with the sight of a hummingbird moth hovering and darting from flower to flower. Other moth pollinators include owlet moths, underwing moths, and geometer moths.

But wait, there are so many MORE!!! Research pollinators in your area to find out what's local for you and what you can do to help conserve their habitats.


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