Merlin D. Tuttle,

Signs of Spring Everywhere

Who Visits What? Pollinator "Syndromes"
By Stephen Buchmann of The Forgotten Pollinator's Campaign
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ

Different kinds of pollinators like certain kinds of flowers, and those are the ones they visit. That's a good thing, because for various reasons, those pollinators are unable to vist other types of flowers. You'll learn some of those reasons below. Knowing which pollinators visit certain types of flowers (and why) gives us a technique called pollinator "syndrome." Pollinator syndrome helps us make educated guesses about the pollinators that visit and pollinate particular flowers. The pollinator syndromes below will help you decide which animal is likely to be your chosen flowers' pollinators in the Mystery Pollinator Adventure. Here you go!

Pollinator Syndromes
Pollinator Syndrome
Bees Both honey bees and native wild bees such as bumblebees are attracted to flowers with bright lively colors (especially blues and yellows). They can't see the color red, so won't visit blossoms that are red. The flowers may be massed into a group of many smaller flowers, or may have a "landing platform" for the bees to stand upon while they drink nectar or collect pollen. Such bee flowers often have pleasing fresh scents that humans find attractive. Nectar and pollen are abundant.
Birds (Hummingbirds) Red is the banner that says "Eat Here" to these fast-flying living jewels. The throat of these pink, orange or red blossoms is narrowly constricted so that only the hummingbirds' narrow bills can enter to extract the abundant but dilute nectar. The flowers have no scent that we can detect. There is no landing platform on the flowers.
Bats Bats- Unless you live in the American southwest (such as Texas, Arizona, New Mexico or southern California) you aren't likely to have picked a flower pollinated by bats. Most of this happens in the tropical rain forests. Bat blossoms are large and very sturdy. The flowers always open at night as in the case of our Century plants (the genus Agave). There is lots of dilute nectar and the flowers are usually not brightly colored. They don't even smell that good. Some people think these flowers smell musty or like fruit. Some bananas are pollinated by bats.
Butterflies Blossoms built for butterflies have lively colors, especially pinks, blues and yellows. They are often grouped together in small masses. The floral tube is often narrowly restricted to allow just the butterflies' slender tongues (the proboscis) into the opening. Fat bees keep away! They have very pleasant floral scents and abundant nectar.
Moths Not many of our crop plants are pollinated by moths, but just in case you selected one, here is some information. These flowers open during the evening or at night when moths are active. They often have very sweet pleasant scents (like night-blooming Jasmine) which we can smell from a long distance away. The flowers are almost always white and have abundant nectar but not much pollen. There may or may not be a landing area.
Flies "Yuck," you say? Flies, especially the flower flies in the family Syrphidae, are important pollinators. Their hairy bodies are great for transporting those little pollen grains around helping to pollinate flowers and set those fruits. Flies may visit many types of blossoms, especially big open masses of them. An example is goldenrod. Flies also visit flowers that can smell like rotting meat. (Has your mother ever had the experience of having a Stapelia plant from Africa bloom on the kitchen windowsill?). Other flowers trap and hold flies inside as pollinators (like the Dutchman's Pipe). Did you know that you have flies (midges in this case) to thank for pollinating the cacao blossoms whose seeds are ground up to make the chocolate in your candy bar?
Beetles There are more kinds of beetles alive today than any other kind of insects. They are usually generalists, that is they visit many types of flowers for food, especially in the tropics. They are called "mess and soil" pollinators because they generally wander around on the flower eating and chewing on everything. Very large flowers with numerous parts (such as a Magnolia) are pollinated by beetles. Beetles are not important pollinators of our crop plants like bees are. These blossoms often smell like overripe fruit.

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