By: Matt Trott, USFWS/External Affairs
Flowering plants often need help to reproduce. That’s where pollinators come in, and thank goodness! Every meal, we more than likely consume food made possible by pollinators – including tomatoes, chocolate, coffee, apples, even tequila.
Pollinators (birds, bees, bats, butterflies and some species that actually do not begin with the letter B) feed at the flowers or look to flowers for shelter, nest-building materials or sometimes even a mate. As they visit the flower, many bees actively collect pollen, while most other pollinators incidentally collect pollen as it gets stuck to their feathers, hairs or scales. As the pollinators move, so does the pollen – to the female part of the same plant or a different plant – fertilizing it. To entice these pollinators, plants have developed what amount to neon signs.
For bats and other nighttime pollinators, plants typically have flowers in white or other colors that show up well at night. They are also often very fragrant to attract pollinators by their sense of smell.
Smell is less significant for some bird pollinators, so many plants that need hummingbird help attract them with bright red or orange flowers that don’t have much of an odor.
More than just being attractive and aromatic, plants need to make themselves easily accessible to pollinators. Beetles, for instance, need a nice easy landing surface because they aren’t agile flyers, so beetle-pollinated plants tend to have large, open flowers.
But the brightest, most fragrant and colorful of nature’s “neon signs” can’t attract things if they aren’t there.
And as development in the form of roadways, lawns, crops, herbicides and non-native plants increases, native vegetation with its bright, fragrant neon signs for pollinators disappears.
This habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation take a toll on pollinators, which lose needed food and nesting sites.
If development is not balanced with areas that provide native plants, many pollinators may vanish, with drastic repercussions on our food supply. About 75 percent of the world’s food crops and native plants rely on pollinators to produce fruits and seeds.
We are hard at work fighting the decline of pollinators. Besides individual efforts, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a key member of the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign, a collaboration of more than 100 government agencies, non-government organizations, educational institutions and businesses, all dedicated to pollinator conservation and education.
As we celebrate Pollinator Week (June 16-22), consider planting a pollinator garden in your yard. It will help give pollinators the food and resources they need to keep us well-fed.
And those “neon signs” will really make your yard stand out!