Six pollinators that aren’t bees or butterflies

We’ve spent a lot of time talking about native bees, honeybees, butterflies and moths — but did you know that there are plenty of other types of pollinators out there?

Hummingbirds

Photo of a hummingbird at a feeder

Hummingbirds love flowers that are tubular, brightly colored, open during the day and have prolific nectar hidden deeply within. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only one in the northern U.S., but the southwestern states can see as many as a dozen species that are all key to pollinating wildflowers.

Throughout the world, other species of birds also help in pollination. Honeycreepers in Hawaii, honeyeaters in Australia, brush-tongued parrots in New Guinea and sunbirds in the tropics are all great pollen movers.

Beetles

Photo of insects on a panicled aster

Flower-visiting beetles — such as soldier beetles, leaf beetles and snout beetles — feed on pollen and nectar. Some have hairy tongues that scrape pollen and other use their mandibles, or jaws, to chew pollen grains.

Their hairy bodies trap pollen grains and lose some pollen as they travel from plant to plant, effectively pollinating. However, they often remain on one plant for a long time or forage between different species, so they aren’t quite as good of pollinators as bees.

Wasps

Like them or not, wasps visit flowers for nectar and in doing so can pick up pollen and transfer it as they go. Their bodies are not hairy like bees, so they are not anywhere near as good of pollinators, but they assist in the pollination process nonetheless.

Social wasps are carnivores and can aggressively protect their nests by stinging intruders. There are also solitary wasps, just like there are solitary bees, and do not aggressively defend their nests.

Flies

Photo of a robber fly on dotted gayfeather

Many types of flies visit flowers to feed on pollen and nectar, making them effective pollinators as well. Bee flies have hairy bodies that can carry plenty of pollen, and they visit many flowers in a short period of time. Syrphid flies are also known as flower flies and mimic bees with their black and yellow coloring. They feed on both pollen and nectar. Tachinid and thick-headed flies also feed on nectar.

Mosquitoes

Did you know that it is only the female mosquito that bites humans? It feeds on blood for additional strength when it has eggs to lay. Otherwise, male mosquitoes feed solely on nectar, and females also drink nectar prior to mating. Like wasps, they will pick up a little pollen on their smooth bodies as they move from flower to flower.

Bats

Photo of a silver-haired bat

Although the Midwest doesn’t have any fruit- or nectar-eating bats, instead they are all insectivores, bats can be great pollinators in several areas of the world. Flower-visiting bats in tropical and desert climates — such as Central America, Africa, southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands — feed on the insects in the flowers as well as nectar and flower parts. More than 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination, including mangoes, bananas and guavas. Agave and the saguaro cactus also need bat pollination to survive.

(Bats in Iowa: Myths, facts and why we should love them)

Ants, midges, tree squirrels — so many animals visit flowers during their lives and end up carrying pollen with them. So, as much as we focus on bees and butterflies, remember that all creatures in nature are important, for their pollinating talents and so much more.

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