Gardening Articles :: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers :: National Gardening Association

Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Lawns, Ground Cover, & Wildflowers

The Other Pollinators (page 5 of 6)

by Amy Bartlett Wright

Mining Bee (Andrena)

Many species of mining bees, which are found throughout North America, are important pollinators for a variety of plants. They collect pollen on leg and body hairs and take pollen and nectar to their cells through underground tunnels. All mining bees are solitary, but some nest in dense aggregations. The A. milwaukeensis, a boreal (northern) bee, can be found generally in regions from the Yukon to Nova Scotia and in high altitudes from the Appalachians to the Rockies.

Not Just Bees: Other Pollinators

Not Just Bees: Other Pollinators

Hover flies, also called syrphid flies. Gardeners need practice to recognize these flies because they look just like bees. In fact, that's the key to their protection from predators. Eristalis tenax mimics a honeybee, and E. flavipes mimics a small bumblebee. If you look carefully when a fly is at rest, it has only two wings, usually held apart and slightly raised from the abdomen. But bees have four wings, sometimes held crossed and flat against the abdomen when at rest. Also, a fly has round eyes and short, thread-thin, barely visible antennae; a bee's eyes are more crescent-shaped, and its antennae are longer, thicker, segmented, and elbowed.

To further mystify predators, the syrphid fly attempts to imitate the bee's behavior. It hovers over a flower or buzzes in erratic patterns over a food source, giving this group their common name: hover flies. Once you recognize these impersonators, you'll have no fear of being stung, because they can't sting. They're effective transporters of nectar and pollen, and you should welcome them to the garden.


Of the 111 beetle families found in North America, 30 are considered messy pollinators because they tramp all over a flower, feeding and defecating while effectively moving pollen around by picking it up on their hard cuticles and body hairs. The soft-winged flower beetle, Anthocomus bipunctatus, is one of the many beetles that transport pollen.

Butterflies and Moths

Generally, butterflies seek nectar by day, and moths do so by night. They pick up some pollen on their body and leg hairs when they rest and reach into a flower with their long, recoiling hollow proboscises. Some skippers (day-flying butterflies distinguished by their vertical upper-wing position when at rest) jam their hairy faces into a flower and withdraw them covered in pollen.

The Future

The current but temporary decline of honeybee populations is a perfect time to learn more about other pollinators, particularly when you view pollinators as one of the first links in the food chain. Whether yours is a fruit, flower, or vegetable garden in a small spot or on many acres, your plants need pollinators. Nature is a dynamic system containing many species, including specialists and generalists, and diversity is an essential part of that system. Because of the decline of the honeybee populations, we may find a resurgence of other beneficial insects. They include thousands of species hard at work drinking, walking, buzzing, and stepping all over the flowers, working to meet their own needs as well as those of many plants--and our own, too.

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