4 Ways YOU Can Help the Pollinators
It’s a shocker to learn that the little annoying insect that keeps buzzing around your head may be responsible for your food supply. Geez…if the weight of the world’s food supply were on my shoulders, I would definitely be buzzing about…in a wine sort of way!
And to make matters worse…we humans have to be the worse kind of bosses. These little guys work their wings off for us and we continue to put obstacles in their workplace . Where is OSHA when an insect needs it?
Did you know that in the U.S. alone, pollinating insects produce over $40 BILLION worth of products annually? (So if money gets you buzzing, then your ears should be perking up now!) Without pollinators we would not have almonds, coffee, chocolate, and tequila (the important stuff) and then of course there are the fruits and vegetables, spices, and medicines. It is estimated that one out of every three bites we take depend on the pollinators. These little guys are probably the most overworked and under appreciated of all our workforce.
Pollinator Week kicks off June 15, 2015 so mark your calendars and commit to doing at least one thing to give these guys and gals a helping hand! Your chocolate and wine stash may be dependent upon them!
What is Pollination?
Just in case you don’t really know, but are too embarrassed to ask (or look up), this is a quick and easy definition of pollination:
Pollination results when the pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) is moved to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma) and fertilizes it, resulting in the production of fruits and seeds. Some flowers rely on the wind to move pollen, while other rely on animals to move pollen.
Flowering plants must be pollinated in order to produce the fruit. As much as 75% of all flowering plants are pollinated by non-human animals…what we call the pollinators. If the pollinator population is reduced, our food supply is also reduced. So you can see why this partnership is so critical.
Meet the Pollinators
Who (or is it what?) are these little-loved, occasionally annoying workers?
Pollinators are the animals that visit flowers in search of food and sometimes even mates, shelter and nest-building materials. Some animals, such as many bees, intentionally collect pollen, while others, such as many butterflies and birds, move pollen incidentally because the pollen sticks on their body while they are collecting nectar from the flowers. All of these animals are considered pollinators.
The cool kids on the pollinator block are the honey bees and the monarch butterflies. These are the rock stars—the poster children—of all the pollinators. But worldwide, there are an estimated 200,000 species that act as pollinators. Of these, there are about 1,000 species that are…now get this…vertebrates! That means we can also thank some birds, bats, and even monkeys, lemurs, possums and lizards!
Most likely, you know the pollinators as honey bees. It seems the buzz is all about the bees these days, but there are many kinds of bees including the solitary bees (some 4,000 species native to the U.S.) and the bubble bees.
Bees are not the only populous pollinators. Others include:
- Butterflies – 700 species native to North America
- Moths – many of which feed on night blooming plants
What is the Problem?
Essentially, we humanoids have not been very good stewards of the land. Large scale agriculture and development has disrupted and fragmented habitats. The use of pesticides, insecticides, herbicides and the wondrous invention of GMO crops (said with sarcasm) have doomed many species. Somewhere along the way we have forgotten that we share this planet with other earthlings of the non-human kind, and we are all dependent upon one another. We have played King of the Hill to the detriment of our housemates and have unwittingly brought danger to ourselves by creating an unsafe home and workplace for the pollinators.
Green skipper butterfly
What YOU Can Do
In 1989, NBC started a series of public service announcements entitled The More You Know. That title would be appropriate for most any topic of nature, but particularly that of the pollinators. Our natural world is the least understood place by the general population today. We are so careless and so uninterested that we are going to Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat ourselves into a food shortage. So the more you know the more you can do. Knowledge is power!
4 Ways You Can Help the Pollinators
1. PLANT A POLLINATOR GARDEN
- This could be your entire yard, a bed, window boxes or containers on your deck or porch.
- Use plants that flower at various times of the year, (think perennials — preferably native or adaptive) and include host plants for butterflies. What matters in plants is abundance and diversity.
- Click here for more on planting for pollinators.
- Click here for a list of butterfly host plants.
- Click here for Ecoregional Planting Guides.
- Water your plants regularly. Keeping your plants watered helps them to produce flowers and more nectar. Water during the evening or early morning making sure the water source does not splash the flowers.
2. PROVIDE HABITAT
- Allow areas for twigs and leaves to pile up for nesting sites.
- Reduce the amount of mulch you use, allowing for some bare ground for ground-nesting bees.
- Use leaves as mulch to allow safe places for caterpillars and other insects to hide from predators.
- Build or purchase nesting boxes. ( I will caution that there is at least one study that suggests these are not effective…much like the butterfly boxes.)
- Click here for The Great Pollinator Project’s Nesting Habitat Information
- Click here for the Bumblebee Conservation Trust’s tutorial on making a bumblebee nest
- Click here for a post over at Root Simple about the success of his nesting boxes
- Provide a water source in your garden with birdbaths or shallow dishes with moist sand or pebbles.
3. DO NOT USE HERBICIDES, PESTICIDES, or INSECTICIDES
- These products are not selective. They kill both the good and the bad.
4. EDUCATE YOURSELF and SHARE YOUR KNOWLEDGE with friends, family, and neighbors.
- For general information on the web:
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
- USDA Forest Service
- The Xerces Society
- National Geographic – a great article and amazing photo gallery
Most importantly…have some fun! Get out there and really look at what is going on. Do you remember the locker scene in Men in Black? Jay opens the locker to reveal a whole micro-world? Just a reminder:
I’ll bet if you squatted down in your garden, you would find a whole lot of those very fascinating micro-worlds. Every morning I take a cup of coffee (and my camera) outside to see what is going on. What a wonderful way to start my day and a reminder of all the life (and blessings) that surround us. Make it a daily habitat to get out there and learn about the natural world.
Did you know there are some great things happening with programs such as The Pollinator Pathway? Check it out!
All pictures for this post were taken on my butterfly farm in Texas by Valerie Bugh. Thank you Val!