Eight forgotten pollinators

Slugs to flies, moths to beetles — pollinators come in many shapes and sizes beyond butterflies and bees.

These pollinators help one-third of human food sources to grow, but some have become so common that they are seen more like pests instead of beneficial insects, and some have even been eradicated to the point of being placed on the federal endangered species list.

(6 pollinators that aren’t butterflies or bees)

So who are some of our forgotten pollinators?

milkweed beetle

Large milkweed bugs

You may see black and orange-red beetles on common milkweed plants, eating leaves, flowers and developing pods. They do cause damage to the plant, but they also spread pollen as they move from milkweed to milkweed for food.

Valley elderberry long-horned beetle (VELB)

This beetle lives in Sacramento, CA, and has been placed on the threatened or endangered species list. The orange-and-black beetle eats the leaves and flowers of elderberry shrubs in the urban riparian forest around Sacramento. Like most beetle pollinators, VELB are destructive and messy as they eat, but this helps to dislodge the pollen that they then transfer from plant to plant and flower to flower as they move along.

Glorious scarab beetle

This beetle lives in the southwest U.S. and eats the leaves of juniper trees. However, they also use the flowers of the junipers to hide in and mate in, and when they move from flower to flower they also move pollen.

Fungus gnat

Fungus gnats are found in the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. in moist, rich wetlands where they feed on fungus. They help to pollinate jack-in-the-pulpit flowers, because the center of these plants smells like fungus, so the gnats go there to lay eggs.

However, there isn’t fungus, so the gnats then when to escape. Male flowers have a small slit of an escape route, so the gnats will leave, covered in pollen. When they go to the next flower that smells like fungus, they will fall for the trick again, and if that jack-in-the-pulpit is a female flower, the pollination work is done. However, female flowers don’t have an escape route, so the gnat dies.

bee fly on a daffodil

Photo by Martin Cooper, via Wikimedia Commons

Bee flies

Bee flies are a large, diverse group of flies that are known to attack and kill caterpillars, grasshopper eggs, beetle larvae and bee larave. It is a great pollinator because it has a stout, furry body that resembles a bumble bees. It feeds on the nectar of many species of flower, and it picks up pollen as it feeds, transferring it to the next flower it visits.

Delhi Sands flower-loving fly

One of the largest flies in the world at 1 inch in length, the Delhi Sands flower-loving fly lives in southern California and is listed as an endangered species. It is not found anywhere else on earth and is important for the pollination of buckwheat flowers. However, this fly’s listed status is causing troubles as southern California city officials would like it delisted, because it is getting in the way of development.

hummingbird moth

Hawk moths

Also known as sphinx moths, these are some of the largest species of moths in the world. There are around 1,450 species of hawk moths in the world, including the giant hawk moth and hummingbird moth.

These moths are found in every region of the world, with a high distribution in the tropics, and their larvae is sometimes considered a pest.

Although most pollinators do their job on accident, some researchers think that the yucca moth and cactus moth pollinate purposefully, because they have been seen jamming pollen balls into the stigmas of plants.

Yucca moth

Yucca moths’ host species is the yucca plant. Its larvae eats the fruit and seeds of the yucca plant, but like other moths, the adults do not eat. However, even as adults, there is a mutually beneficial relationship, because the small white moths that hatch in the springtime blend in with the yucca’s white blossoms.

Once a yucca moth mates, she travels to a different plant in search of a place to lay her eggs, and after she does so, she takes that pollen she has stored under her chin and places it on the stigma to ensure the flower can produce fruit and seeds to feed her larvae.