Who are the Pollinators?
Bees are the best documented pollinators in the natural and agricultural areas of Pennsylvania. A wide range of plants in the Aster
and Rose Families, blueberry crops and tomatoes are just a few plants that benefit from bee pollinators. Some bees form
colonies while others live and work a solitary life. Bees have tongues of varying lengths that help determine which flowers they can
obtain nectar and pollen from. Honey bees are especially useful in the agricultural setting because they adjust their foraging to what is
blooming and tend to visit only one species of flower in a trip. Besides bumble bees, honey bees are the only bees that
collect and store nectar. Bumblebees are foragers and important pollinators of wild plants and crops. Overwintering queens form new
colonies in the spring and nest in the ground and cavities in old mouse nests. Plants in the nightshade family, like tomatoes,
peppers, and eggplant, benefit from their pollination.
Butterflies are as eye-catching as the flowers that attract them. By providing a safe place to eat and nest, gardeners can also support the pollination role that butterflies play in the landscape. Butterflies are less efficient than bees at moving pollen between plants. Highly perched on their long thin legs, they do not pick up much pollen on their bodies and lack specialized structures for collecting pollen.
Moths are distinguished from butterflies by their antennae. Moth antennae are more featherlike. Also they are active at night where butterflies are active during the day. Moths are hairy and less colorful than butterflies.
Beetles do play a role in pollination. Some have a bad reputation because they leave a mess behind, damaging plant parts that
they eat. They wander between different species, often dropping pollen as they go. They are known to pollinate
magnolia, paw paws, and yellow pond lilies.
Flies are generalist pollinators (visit many species of plants). Research indicates that flies primarily pollinate small flowers that bloom under shade an in seasonally moist habitats. The two-winged insects (flies, gnats, mosquitos) constitute a very large group.
Syrphid flies specifically visit flowers. They are not as hairy or efficient as bees in carrying pollen, but some are good
pollinators. Bee flies are another important group of flower-visiting flies, but even flies that resemble house flies can be good pollinators.
A few plants are also pollinated by mosquitoes.
Birds, primarily hummingbirds, play a role in pollination. Their long beaks and tongues draw nectar from tubular flowers. Pollen is
carried on both the beaks and feathers. Hummingbirds can see red where bees cannot. Although a hummingbird weighs
between two and eight grams (a penny weighs 2.5 grams) they eat frequently in order to power hearts that pump 1,200 times
per minute and wings that beat seventy times each second. To survive, they must eat several times their weight in nectar
every day. For protein, they supplement their sugary diet with small insects.