Bees and butterflies – the beauty queens of bugs – have reached celebrity status in the world of pollination. But, while they get the limelight, they’re only a small portion of the over 200,000 species that help produce our crops. These less adorable species include beetles, ants, moths, wasps and even flies. More than 80% of all flowering plants in the world require the service of pollinators, along with more than 1,200 commercial crops. Without pollinators, we lose 1 out of every 3 bites of food and more than $20 billion of the US economy.
Awareness of the decline of the monarch butterfly and the honeybee has spurred communities across the country into action to ensure their survival. But what about the less celebrated?
Let’s take a look at some of these unsung garden heroes.
Hover Flies, also known as Syrphid Flies, are a large group of medium to large flies with black or brown bodies, yellow banded abdomens and two wings. Resembling a bee or wasp, adults can be seen hovering above flowers, feeding on their nectar. They can’t bite or sting but may try to steal some of your salty sweat from time to time. The larvae play a beneficial role in gardens, consuming up to 30 aphids per day – a great natural pest control. Hover flies feed on the same flowers preferred by bees, such as purple coneflowers, blanketflowers and sunflowers.
Experts at finding sweet-smelling flowers at night, hawk moths have the longest tongues of any moth or butterfly – some up to 14” long! These acrobatic fliers include sphinx and hummingbird moths, built with stout bullet-shaped bodies and long, narrow wings. See them mostly at night hovering in place enjoying nectar from heavily fragranced flowers. While many tomato gardeners, admittedly, fear the larvae of the hawk moth (a.k.a. green hornworms), the adults are excellent pollinators for your garden.
Beetles present the greatest diversity of insects and pollinators, with more than 450,000 known species. Regular flower visitors like the soldier beetle feed on pollen and even chew on flowers. Solider beetles are one type of “mess and soil” pollinators, as they will defecate within flowers in the process of carrying pollen from one flower to another. Soldier Beetles are commonly seen on flowers that are strongly fruity and open during the day such as marigolds, magnolias and many flowering herbs.
Beetles have been pollinators for millions of years. Based on fossil records, they were among the first insects to visit flowering plants as far back as 150 million years ago.
Ten Things You Can Do in Your Yard to Encourage Pollinators
1. Plant a pollinator garden—provide nectar and feeding plants (flowers and herbs). Visit our website for more information on planting a pollinator garden or register your existing garden.
2. Provide a water source—place shallow dishes of water in sunny areas or create a muddy spot.
3. Provide shelter and overwintering habitat (bee boxes, undisturbed soil areas, and piles of woody debris).
4. Stop using insecticides and reduce other pesticides.
5. Provide sunny areas out of the wind.
6. Use native plant species whenever possible—mimic local natural areas.
7. Grow flowers throughout season. Provide a variety of colors and shapes.
8. Plant in clumps and layers. Use trees, shrub layers, with some low growing perennials and vines—intermix with flowering annuals.
9. Use compost instead of commercial fertilizers.
10. Look but do not touch.