discover invertebrate Pollinators
75% - 95% of ALL flowering plants on Earth need help with pollination. Pollinators provide their help to over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1,200 crops!
what is pollination?
Pollination is the first step in the process that produces fruits, seeds, and the next generation of plants!
Pollination happens when a pollen grain moves from the anther (male part) of a flower to the stigma (female part).
It's important to remember that the ultimate goal of every living organism, including plants, is to produce offspring for the next generation. Plants are able to produce offspring by creating seeds, which contain the genetic information needed to produce a new plant.
Pollination can happen through self pollination when the pollen falls into the same flower that produced it. More often, pollen is carried by wind or water from bloom to bloom. Sometimes animal pollinators are required to help moving pollen from plant to plant.
Pollination through animals is usually an unintended consequence of them eating or collecting pollen, or sipping on nectar. As the animal visits another flower, pollen can fall off onto the new flower's stigma, which can possibly result in successful reproduction of the flower.
What is a pollinator?
A pollinator is an animal or insect that transfers pollen between one flower to another, which in turn helps the plant produce seeds and flowers. These animals include some species of beetles, butterflies, moths, bees, ants, bats, birds and some small mammals. While they visit flower to feed on their nectar or pollen, they will sometimes consequently fertilize the plant at the same time.
Check out this short 2 min. video explaining pollinators!
What makes flowers so special?
Flowers have adapted their color, scent, shape, and size in numerous ways to attract the perfect pollinator!
Even the timing when the flower blooms or produces stronger scents are tuned to the pollinators they attract.
A Nocturnal Flower: The Evening Primrose
Also known as Oenothera, the Evening Primrose is native to North America. This flower is sweet smelling, has a lemon scent and has four petals that bloom at night.
Different colors will attract different types of pollinators, even at different times of the day or night. For instance, flowers that are typically white or a very pale color, tend to attract bats and moths, especially those that are nocturnal.
Some flowers have also adapted their scent to attract different types of pollinators. Floral scents can be a mixture of essential oils and highly volatile compounds.
You can read more about floral scent here!
Flowers have also adapted their shape to attract specific pollinators. There are tubular-, spherical-, saucer-, trumpet-, bowl-, funnel-, and bell-shaped flowers. Their shape also allows a specific, co-evolved pollinator to contact the flower's anthers and stigmas.
Moths and hummingbirds are typically more attracted to tubular-shaped flowers.
These are typically patterns found on flowers that guide pollinators in finding the nectar and pollen. For instance, while ultraviolet is invisible to humans, bees can detect this light and many of the bee-pollinating flowers will have a low region of ultraviolet near the center of each petal. This contrasting ultraviolet pattern guides the bee to the flowers center.
Nectar vs. pollen?
Nectar and pollen are two different substances that are produced by plants. Nectar is a fluid produced by a flower, whereas pollen is the sperm cells of a plant.
Nectar is produced through the nectary glands of flowers. It is very rich in sugar and hence has a sweet smell, which makes it a great source of energy for pollinators like bees, butterflies, and moths.
Pollen is a fine, coarse powder that contains the microgametophytes of seed plants. Pollen also has a hard coating of sporopollenin, which acts as a protectant. When pollinators come to feed on flowers, the pollen will get stuck to their bodies and be transferred to another flower. The pollen will then fertilize the new flower, which will result in the production of new seeds.
Pollinators prefer plants that provide abundant nectar and/or pollen. The larval stages of many insect species need highly nutritious food from plants and pollen is a great source. Nectar is produced by some flowers like carnations and golden alyssums. Pollen is available from all flowering plants, however not all pollen has the necessary nutrients to be desirable for a broad range of insects.
Predators to insect pollinators
Pollinating insects have plenty of natural predators, including other insects! Some predators will attack pollinators while they're visiting a flower for pollen or nectar, and others may target hives and colonies. Many bird species feed on pollinators and mammals like skunks, raccoons, and bears will go after hives for honey.
A captured sulphur butterfly meets its demise by crab spider on hoary verbena (Verbena stricta). Photo by Chris Helzer.
Mantids are another type of predator to insect pollinators. Check out this mantid ambushing a bee!
Would you like to see what types of insect pollinators we have in the Invertebrate Zoology Collection at the Museum of Texas Tech University? Check out the link below to explore more!