Beyond Bees: The Four Most Important Pollinators

Many insects beyond bees help pollinate flowers and crops.

About 75% of the world's flowering plants and 35% of the world's food crops depend on pollinators. Without them, these plants would fail to produce the fruits and seeds that are a necessary part of the human diet.

What is Pollination?

Pollination is like nature's matchmaking service for flowers. It is when pollen containing male cells from one part of a flower (the stamen) moves to the female part (the stigma) either within the same flower or to another flower. The transfer of pollen is vital for plants to create seeds, leading to the growth of new plants.

Beyond Bees: The Four Most Important Pollinators

There are a few different ways pollination can occur. The wind carries pollen from one flower to another in some cases, while insects do it in others.


More Than Bees: Flies as Crucial Pollinators
Unlike bees, which collect pollen to feed their young, flies primarily visit flowers for nectar

Although flies may not receive as much attention as bees, they are proficient pollinators. They are attracted to a wide variety of flowers, particularly those emitting unpleasant or rotting odors. As flies sip nectar, they unknowingly transfer pollen between flowers. Their fuzzy bodies and bristly legs help pollinate many plants, including wildflowers and crops like carrots and onions.


More Than Bees: Beetles as Crucial Pollinators
Beetles have been pollinators for over 200 million years

Beetles have been transferring pollen for millions of years, making them one of the oldest pollinators around. They are attracted to flowers with big, open shapes and strong smells. As they crawl over flowers seeking nectar, they pick up and transfer pollen. Beetles are crucial for pollinating ancient plants like magnolias, water lilies, and pawpaws.


More Than Bees: Moths as Crucial Pollinators
Moths are drawn to both moonlight and artificial lights, which may distract them from flowers and impact their pollination behavior

Moths, similar to butterflies, are crucial pollinators, particularly for flowers that bloom at night. Their long proboscis is well-suited for pollinating flowers that open after dark. Many of these flowers are light-colored or white, emitting powerful, sweet scents that attract moths during the night.

While they feed on nectar, moths move pollen between flowers, helping plants reproduce. They pollinate various plant species, including important crops like tobacco and orchids.


More Than Bees: Wasps as Crucial Pollinators
Wasps visit flowers for nectar, which they eat. While they feed, they can accidentally pick up pollen and carry it to other flowers

Despite being known as predators, certain wasp species play a crucial role as pollinators. Unlike bees, which gather pollen for their larvae, adult wasps feed on nectar. Some wasps, like fig wasps, have special relationships with certain plants, such as fig trees, where they help with pollination. Other wasp species, drawn to different flowers, move pollen while searching for nectar, helping many plants reproduce effectively.

More Than Bees: The Four Key Pollinators Shaping Our Ecosystem
Pollen grains vary in size, ranging from less than 10 micrometers to over 100 micrometers in diameter

Although bees are the most well-known insects transferring pollen, they aren't the only ones. Flies, beetles, moths, and wasps also play significant roles in the transfer of pollen. To preserve biodiversity and secure food sources for future generations, conservation efforts must acknowledge the vital contributions of these lesser-known pollinators.


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