By Kelsey Hansen, Group Tours and Education Coordinator
Insects, mammals, and birds contribute to pollinating our flowers, fruits, and vegetables. Pollinators help move pollen from the male structures of flowers to the female structures, which ensures new seeds, fruits, and plants will grow. About 80-95% of plant species in natural environments depend on pollinators to grow.
These animals also benefit from the plants they visit. The nectar provided by the flowering plant provides carbohydrates to the animals and the pollen can provide proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, and other necessary nutritional value.
Humans also depend on pollinators for a large amount of food that we need for a healthy diet. Pollinators are responsible for about 75% of our major food crops and provide a key ecosystem service. Honey Bees, which are probably one of the most famous pollinators, pollinate crops such as apples, blueberries, and cauliflower. Other insects that pollinate our food are butterflies, beetles, and moths. Bats pollinate over 300 species of fruit, and about 2,000 species of birds feed on nectar, the insects, and spiders associated with nectar from flowering plants.
Florida has several pollinators that are native to our state and help our plants and crops grow.
Halictid Bees, or sweat bees, are pollinators native to Florida. They are known as anti-specialists, which means they do not have a particular type of flower they prefer but enjoy them all. Sweat bees are important for pollinating many wildflowers and crops, such as pomme fruits, alfalfa, and sunflower.
Adult Halictus poeyi Lepeletier, a sweat bee, collecting pollen on Spanish needle, in Highlands County, Florida. Photograph by Tim Lethbridge.
Bumblebees and carpenter bees are fun pollinators to observe. Their fuzz collects and transfers pollen from plant to plant. Bumblebees are especially important to plants who only release their pollen when properly “shaken” by the buzz from the bees’ wings. These bees are responsible for pollinating blueberries, tomatoes, and kiwi.
Photo by Carolien van Oijen on Unsplash
The ruby-throated hummingbird is also native to Florida. These hummingbirds prefer tube-shaped flowers to consume nectar from. As the birds stick their heads deep in the flower, they collect pollen on their heads. They prefer wildflowers, including coral honeysuckle, red buckeye, and coral bean.
Ruby-throated hummingbird by Mary Keim
Although Florida has 13 native bat species they do not contribute to pollinating flowers and fruits. Bats living in the tropics contribute to the re-growth of the rainforest and are responsible for pollinating trees that provide fruits, such as avocados, dates, figs, and mangoes. Bats serve an important purpose in Florida and that includes eating tons of insects. Many of the bat species that reside in Florida eat mosquitoes!
Photo by Zdeněk Macháček on Unsplash
The Delaware skipper is probably a lesser-known pollinator of Florida. Skippers are closely related to butterflies and moths, which are also pollinators. Delaware skippers have long proboscis, which allows them to feed on long, tube-shaped flowers. They also prefer nectar from swamp milkweed, buttonbush, and butterfly weed.
Delaware skipper on Purple thistle (Cirsium horridulum) by Mary Keim