Let's Hear It
For The Forgotten Pollinators!
(Introduction to Mystery Pollinator Adventure)
By Stephen Buchmann of The Forgotten Pollinator's Campaign
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, Tucson, AZ
At the supermarket where you see colorful row upon row of neatly stacked
fruits and vegetables, do you ever wonder how all that fruit got there?
As you crunch into a brilliant Red Delicious apple or green Granny Smith
for a lunchtime snack, do you wonder what steps were involved in actually
producing that fruit on the tree? In this lesson we'll be concerned with
the very earliest steps in this process (pollination)--and the little
animals (pollinators, usually bees)--that visited those apple blossoms
and other flowering crops.
- Why does a flower become a fruit?
- Why do plants bother with all those colorful, good-smelling flowers
- Who are the pollinators that cause fruits to form from flowers?
You'll begin to discover answers to these questions through the Mystery
Pollinator Adventure. First, some background information about pollinators
and the important role they play.
Pollinators are Important
Basically, pollinators make sure that plants can successfully
reproduce. Since plants can't move, they depend on animals like bees,
bats, butterflies, moths, birds, and many others to move their pollen
from one plant to another. Pollination happens when a bee or other
pollinator moves pollen from one flower to another of the same species.
Bees and other pollinators visit a flower looking for nectar, pollen,
or other rewards. They get covered with pollen in the process, and
then carry that pollen on to the next flower that they visit. When
a plant flower is pollinated it has a much better chance of developing
into big full-bodied fruit full
of fertile seeds, capable of sprouting and producing the next generation
Some plants can self-pollinate, and others, like grass, corn,
wheat, and pine trees, are pollinated by the wind. Many other plants,
however, like apples, cherries, alfalfa, pumpkins, nectarines, oranges,
blueberries, almonds, and over 220,000 other species of wild flowering
plants depend on pollinators to visit their flowers and ensure that
the plants can produce healthy fruits and seeds. Basically, four out
of every five bites you eat is made possible by a pollinator!
Pollinators in Peril
Unfortunately, many of the pressures that animals and plants
are facing all over the world also threaten pollinators. As we develop
more land for houses and for growing food, we take habitat away from
wild pollinators. Wild pollinators include bats, butterflies, hummingbirds,
and many species of bees. Honey bees are just one species of bee --
there are hundreds of bee species. Pollinators are also
vulnerable to pesticides, which are often used heavily on the very
crops we need pollinated in order to get fruit! Even honey bees, which
are kept in hives and moved around to pollinate fields of different
crops, are hurt by pesticides. Honeybees are also in trouble due to
diseases and the invasion of Africanized honeybees, which take over
Thank a Pollinator Today!
Without the birds and the bees, we would have a very boring
lunch at school and possibly a nearly empty table at home. Did you
know that about every 4 out of 5 bites of food you eat is the direct
result of bees and other animals pollinating those fruits and vegetables?
About 80% of all the food we eat comes from fruits and vegetables that
were insect-pollinated. Only 20% of our diet consists of grains and
nuts which are wind-pollinated, and therefore do not require animal
pollinators. So, remember that fact and thank a pollinator today. Pollinators
are critical to plant success, both in wild lands and also in agriculture.
In order to protect our diverse wild lands and aalso to ensure that
we have good fruit to eat, we need to protect pollinators as well as
the plants that they pollinate!
1. Discuss or research:
- Are honey bee colonies increasing or decreasing in the United States and
Canada? If they are decreasing, what are the causes?
- How do pesticides negatively affect bees and other pollinators?
- If natural habitats are fragmented into "tiny islands," what
effect could it have on native pollinators?
2. What can you or your class do to help protect pollinators or give them
a place to live? Try these ideas:
- Find out how you can drill holes in small wooden blocks or set out soda
straws in cans or milk cartons to provide nest sites for leafcutter or Mason
- Find out what pesticides are safe to use around bees. Ask your parents
not to spray fruit trees or other flowering plants when bees are active.
- Plant a pollinator garden with bright blossoms that can server to attract
and feed exciting pollinating animals including hummingbirds, bees, butterflies