Plant Pollinators

In this science article we look at insect, mammal and bird pollinators.Remember that pollination has to takes place before a plant produces seeds.

Plant pollinators-bees

In Parts of Plant- the Flower we look at how plants offer bees a meal of nectar. As bees drink nectar pollen sticks to their bodies.

pollen sticking to bee

The bees then fly off looking for nectar in other flowers. Some of the pollen on the bees’ bodies will stick to the ‘stigmata’ (plural of ‘stigma’) of other flowers.

  • Can you see the ‘stigma’ in the center of this tulip?

 tulip aucheriana showing stigma

After the grain of pollen sticks to the ‘stigma’ the process of seed making can begin.

diagram of flower showing reproductive organs

There are different types of pollen shown in this picture which was taken through an electron microscope. The pollen shown is from sunflowers, hollyhocks, morning glory, oriental lilies, evening primrose and castor beans.

Different types of pollen under a microscope

How bees see flowers

When us humans look at marigold flowers, we admire their beautiful colors and perfumed smells. Bees, on the other hand, do not see the petals and sepals of these marigolds as shades of orange. Bees see light differently to us.

marigold normal view

© Bjørn Rørslett

Bees see colors as ‘ultraviolet’ light, which means that they see colors as shades of black and gray.’Ultraviolet light’ is invisible to the human eye.

A photograph is shown below of the same two marigold flowers. This photograph has been taken using a special camera under ultraviolet light, showing the colors that bees see. Notice the contrast in colors between light gray and black.

  • What are the marigolds ‘telling’ the bees to do?
marigold ultraviolet view

© Bjørn Rørslett

Plant pollinators-other insects

Butterflies also pollinate flowers. Like bees, butterflies need to be able to land on flowers if they are to feed on the nectar. For this reason flowers pollinated by butterflies usually have large ‘landing zones’ on which butterflies can land easily.

This monarch butterfly has landed on a purple cone flower.

Monarch Butterfly landing on a Purple Cone flower

This olive butterfly has landed on small ‘golden rod’ flowers. Bunched together the small flowers make a great landing zone! Nectar is deeply buried in the flowers requiring the butterfly to use its long ‘proboscis’ to reach it.

olive butterfly pollinating goldenrod

This ‘snowberry clear wing’ moth is feasting on the nectar of swamp milkweed. Notice that it does not land on the flowers but beats its wings very fast as it feeds on nectar through its ‘proboscis’. Because it uses up a lot of energy beating its wings, it will be rewarded with a large meal! These moths are excellent at hovering and can even fly backwards!

snowberry clearwing moth feasting on swamp milkweed

This ‘pink spotted’ hawkmoth is ‘nocturnal’. Nocturnal moth-pollinated flowers are often white and have large landing zones. Their sweet scent is often only released at night.

 pink-spotted hawk moth visiting a blossom of Datura

Flowers that attract humming birds do not have any perfumed smell; this is because humming birds do not have a well developed sense of smell.

Like moths, humming birds hover in front of flowers as they feed and do not need a landing zone. They are often attracted to ‘tubular’ flowers which they can feed on using their long beaks to collect nectar.

Bat pollinated flowers are often light in color, open at night and have strong perfumed smells.

bat pollinator with wings outstretched feeding from a plant

© Merlin D Tuttle Bat Conservation International

These bats below have returned to their roost. How do you know what they have been eating?!

bats pollen on faces

© Merlin D Tuttle Bat Conservation International

Beetle-pollinated flowers are usually heavily scented and the nectar is easy for the beetles to reach.

soldier beetle covered in pollen

Ants are pollinating ‘spurge’ plants whose small flowers are close to the ground.

ant pollinating 'spurge' plants are close to the ground © Beatriz

Believe it or not mosquitoes are also plant pollinators! This mosquito is pollinating an ordinary bramble.

mosquito pollinating a bog orchid© Beatriz

This fly pollinator is searching for nectar in ‘catnip’!

fly searching for nectar in capnip © Beatriz

This blue tailed lizard pollinates the endangered Roussea flower on the island of Mauritius.

blue tailed lizard as a plant pollinator

Honey possums in Western Australia are great plant pollinators! They eat nectar and nothing else. Their long noses are well suited to gathering nectar. They are mainly nocturnal animals and take nectar from a range of different flowers. They can cover up to 500 meters every night looking for nectar.

honey possums feeding

Why do you think honey possums are so small?

tiny honey possum between fingers of a person's hand

Plant pollinators-be inspired!

Plant pollinators- science projects

 plant pollinators poster by paul mirochaPaul

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