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.
Let’s take a look at some interesting worldwide pollinators.
North and South America
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.