Pollination is when pollen grains are transferred from one flower to another. Pollination allows plants to produce seeds which is how they reproduce. Pollinators are animals and insects that are responsible for helping with the pollination of over 80% of the world’s flowering plants. Animal pollinators are vital in the reproduction of flowering plants and the production of most fruits and vegetables. They accomplish this by getting their food from flowers (think nectar and pollen) and collecting pollen on their bodies in the process. They then move on to another plant and leave the hitchhiking pollen behind, providing the new plants with the pollen they need to reproduce.

Some of the most common animal pollinators that come to mind are bees and butterflies. But did you know there are several other animals you might not have known who are expert pollinators? Here are a few animal pollinators along with the types of plants they pollinate:

ANTS:

Ants love nectar. Because they don’t fly they have to crawl into flowers to get to this nectar. Once inside the flower, pollen sticks to their bodies, allowing them to transfer it to other flowers when they move on. Tropical plants have nectar outside their flowers to attract ants to them. They then use these ants as “protectors” from other insects.

Ants pollinate flowers that:

  • Are low growing
  • Are small and inconspicuous
  • Have flowers close to their stems

BATS:

Bats are known as one of the “night shift” pollinators. They are most common in tropical and desert climates. They are prevalent in the southwest US, Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands as pollinators. In fact, mangoes, bananas, and guavas depend on bats for pollination. In the US and Central America, the agave plant (which is used to make tequila) and the Saguaro cactus are also dependent on bats for pollination.

Bats pollinate flowers that:

  • Open at night
  • Are large in size
  • Are pale or white in color
  • Are very fragrant
  • Have copious nectar

BEES:

Bees are known as the “champion” pollinators and are also the most common. There are over 4000 species of bees in the United States alone. Bees purposefully visit flowers to collect pollen and nectar which they use to feed themselves and their young. Many flowers that bees pollinate have an area of low UV reflection near their centers. Humans can’t see UV reflection so we don’t notice them. Bees, however, use them as a target to guide them to the center of the flower.
Human Perspective Bee Perspective

Human Perspective                   Bee Perspective

Photos courtesy of Apalachicola National Forest.

Bees pollinate flowers that:

  • Are full of nectar
  • Are brightly colored (usually blue or yellow) (bees can’t see red)
  • Have a sweet or minty flavor
  • Are open in daytime
  • Provide landing platforms
  • Have tubular flowers with nectar at the base

BEETLES:

Beetles were among the first insects to visit flowers. They are important pollinators for ancient species like magnolias. They are known as “mess and soil” pollinators because they eat through flower petals to get to the nectar and then defecate inside the flowers. Fossil records show that beetles were abundant as far back as 200 million years ago.

Beetles pollinate flowers that:

  • Are bowl shaped with their sexual organs exposed
  • Are white to green in color
  • Have a strong fruity fragrance
  • Are open during the day
  • Have a moderate amount of nectar
  • Have large, solitary flowers

BIRDS:

Birds are important pollinators of wildflowers. Hummingbirds are the most important bird pollinators in the United States. In the eastern United States there is only one species that acts as a pollinator and that is the ruby throated hummingbird. Hummingbirds have good eyesight and are extremely attracted to red flowers. They use their long bills to collect nectar and the pollen then dusts their heads and faces.

Hummingbirds pollinate flowers that:

  • Are tubular with recurved petals
  • Have tubes, funnels, and cups
  • Are brightly colored red, yellow, and orange
  • Are odorless
  • Are open during the day
  • Have prolific amounts of nectar
  • Have a modest amount of pollen

BUTTERFLIES:

Butterflies are very active during the day. Their body structure doesn’t allow them to pick up as much pollen as bees and other insects but they can see red where bees can’t. Butterflies produce scents that attract other butterflies of the opposite sex. This scent they produce smells like the flowers that they are attracted to.

Butterflies pollinate flowers that:

  • Have flowers with clusters and landing platforms
  • Are brightly colored (red, orange, yellow)
  • Are open during the day
  • Have ample nectar

TWO-WINGED INSECTS:

Two winged pollinators include flies, gnats, and mosquitoes. These insects aren’t as fuzzy as bees so they don’t pick up as much pollen. They are still, however, important pollinators, especially for some species of orchids.

Two-winged insects pollinate flowers that:

  • Are pale and dull to dark brown or purple in color
  • Are sometimes flecked with translucent patches
  • Have a putrid odor
  • Produce pollen
  • Have funnel-like pollen

MOTHS:

Moths are the other member of the pollination “night shift” along with bats. Some moths are also active as pollinators during the day. The yucca plant is one important plant that is dependent on moths for survival.

Moths pollinate flowers that:

  • Have clusters and landing platforms
  • Are white or dull in color
  • Are open in late afternoon or at night
  • Have ample nectar
  • Have nectar that is deeply hidden

WASPS:

Wasps look like bees but have much less hair. This makes them less efficient as pollinators because pollen is less likely to stick to their bodies. Wasps need pollen and nectar for energy. Fig wasps are responsible for pollinating almost 1000 species of figs.

Wasps pollinate flowers that:

  • Are full of nectar
  • Are brightly colored (usually blue or yellow) (bees can’t see red)
  • Have a sweet or minty flavor
  • Are open in daytime
  • Provide landing platforms
  • Have tubular flowers with nectar at the base

OTHER POLLINATORS:

There are several other uncommon pollinators. Lizards, geckos, and skinks can be pollinators. They climb inside flowers to drink the nectar and the pollen then sticks to their scales. Lemurs and possums can also pollinate. They use their snouts and tongues to get nectar from plants and then have their faces and snouts dusted with pollen.

 

We consider most of the animals and insects that are pollinators as nuisances and pests. As much as we don’t want them in our homes, they do play a very critical role in the survival of plants and food. It is important that while we should take steps to prevent them from invading our homes, we should be very careful with how we handle them should they make themselves at home in our area. If you suspect you have a problem with any of these pollinators, contact a professional pest control company who can give you a thorough evaluation and provide you with a treatment plan that both benefits you and protects these important species.