The pollinator world goes beyond just butterflies and bees, and it also goes beyond the borders of Iowa and the United States. Pollinators come in many shapes, sizes, colors and species, and they help plant communities around the world survive.

(Eight forgotten pollinators)

Let’s take a look at some interesting worldwide pollinators.

North and South America

Photo of a scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper

Scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper

The scarlet Hawaiian honeycreeper (‘I’iwi) is a native Hawaiian finch that is found on the islands of Hawai’i, Kaua’i, Moloka’i and O’ahu. It has a long, curved beak that allows it to get the nectar from flowers with a similar shape from the family Campanulaceae. In fact, the beak fits so precisely into the flowers that it drinks nectar from that it can drink while still looking for predators. The pollen of the plant is deposited on the bird’s eyebrow and is then deposited on the next flower as the bird moves on to drink.

The honeycreeper is considered vulnerable, because increased agricultural and urban development in Hawaii has resulted in decreased natural habitat. The introduction of pigs, cattle, cats and rats has also increased predators and impacted survival rates.

Photo of a banana bat on a tree

Banana bat

The banana bat is an endangered species only found in isolated regions along the western coast of Mexico. It aids in creating genetic variability in bananas. Fruit bats are maintaining the wild plants that could someday keep bananas from disappearing from supermarket shelves.

Photo of a jamaican fruit bat

Jamaican fruit bat

The Jamaican fruit bat pollinates balsa trees, which grow very quickly and can reach heights of almost 100 feet in as little as 10-15 years. Flowers of the tree open at night, revealing the nectar inside that can be as much as 1 inch deep. Pollen covers the bats as they drink the nectar and move from flower to flower.

However, fruit bats are not the only balsa tree pollinators. Capuchin monkeys, kinkajous, wooly opossums and olingos also drink nectar and help pollinate the trees throughout Central and northwest South America.

Photo of a chocolate midge fly

Chocolate midge

The chocolate midge is distributed worldwide, but it is imperative for the cacao tree in the deep tropical regions of the Americas. They perform a difficult task to pollinate cacao, because they have to crawl through long, twisted cacao flowers during the pollination process. It is a very important process to, because cacao trees produce cacao beans, from which we make chocolate!

Chocolate midges are also a part of the biting midge family, which we refer to as no-see-ums. Creatures that are often considered pests are still important to the natural world.

(6 pollinators that aren’t butterflies or bees)

Europe

Photo of a hoverfly on a flower

Hoverfly

The Helophilus pendulus hoverfly is common to Britain and is commonly seen in gardens where it basks in the sun on leaves or feeds on flowers for both nectar and pollen, and they help transfer pollen from flower to flower. Their coloring resembles bees or wasps, and some even have wingbeats that sound like bees. This mimicry helps to protect them from visually hunting predators like birds or lizards.

(It’s not a bee — types of wasps, yellowjackets and hornets you may see in Iowa)

They also are important creatures because the larvae eat aphids and other plant suckers and could potentially be used for biological control of these damaging pests.

Asia

Photo of a butterfly almost the size of a human hand

Queen Alexandra’s birdwing butterfly

The Queen Alexandra’s birdwing is the world’s largest butterfly at approximately 10 inches, but it is endangered in its native coastal rainforest of Papua New Guinea. This butterfly specifically helps to pollinate hibiscus flowers, which is important to humans because hibiscus tea can help relieve high blood pressure as well as high cholesterol and can assist in digestion, with the immune system and with inflammation. Hibiscus also helps to speed up the metabolism and is good for healthy, gradual weight loss. It has also been said to cure liver disease and reduce the risk of cancer.

Africa

Photo of two lemurs

Red-bellied lemur

The vulnerable red-bellied lemur lives in Madagascar and has a brush-shaped tongue that helps it pollinate Vahimberona and introduced guava. It may also help pollinate traveler’s palm and other plants.

Photo of a black and white lemur

Black-and-white ruffed lemur

The black-and-white ruffed lemur, which also lives in Madagascar, eats up to 130 different fruit species and is the world’s biggest pollinator. It has a mutualistic relationship with the traveler’s palm tree, because these lemurs have a unique ability to open the tree’s flowers. The lemurs benefit by eating the nectar in the flowers, and the tree benefits when pollen sticks to their faces and gets transported to the next tree.

Photo of a blue spotted gecko

Blue-tailed day gecko

The blue-tailed day gecko lives on the islands of Mauritius and has filled in as a pollinator for the now-extinct bird, the olive white-eye. It is one of approximately 50 known species of lizards that serve as pollinators, some of which even have modified throat scales that help to transport pollen. It is thought that shortages of arthropod food may have led some lizards to start drinking nectar and thereby aiding in pollination.

Australia

Photo of a sugar glider eating

Sugar glider

Sugar gliders are a small marsupial with cape-like skin between their legs that helps them glide from branch to branch or tree to tree. They are nocturnal and hunt for insects and small vertebrates while also feeding on the sugary sap of certain Eucalyptus trees, which they also help pollinate.

Photo of a honey possum on a flower

Honey possum

This mouse-sized marsupial lives on a diet of nectar and pollen. It can drink up to 7 mL of nectar each day, which would be like a human drinking 50 L of pop!

They are the world’s only truly nectivorous marsupial and need a year-round, continuous supply of nectar to survive. They have bristles on their tongue tips that is used to collect nectar from native flowers, and the upper surface of the tongue is also covered in brush-like bristles that collect pollen. Without their pollination, dozens of plant species would be at risk.