What the heck is a pollinator and why is the Houston Zoo having an event celebrating them? A pollinator is an animal that helps a flowering plant complete its life-cycle by picking up pollen from one flower and physically moving it to another of the same type – this fertilizes the plant, allowing it to form seeds for the next generation. The plant usually offers some sort of reward for this valuable service (sweet, sweet nectar…), but sometimes a plant will attract an animal to its flowers under false pretenses (check out these awesome examples!). Pollinators are fascinating animals that also happen to provide humans with, oh, at least 30% of ALL the food we eat!
Malachite Sunbird, South Africa
About 1,000 different vertebrate species around the globe are pollinators – in this group are bats, birds, small mammals, lizards and even a lemur! Bats are pollinators of some of our favorite edibles, such as mangoes and bananas – they also pollinate Agave, no doubt a very valuable plant to all you tequila lovers out there…
Mexico's Banana Bat (photo ©Marco Tschapka)
The vast majority of pollinators (a whopping 200,000 species) are invertebrates. These can be beetles, bees, moths and butterflies, wasps, flies, ants and many others. The most efficient pollinators in the world by far are bees. You are probably familiar with the European honeybee, the bee that pollinates many of our crops and provides us with yummy honey. But the European honeybee is only one of around 25,000 named bee species. The United States alone has about 4,000 types of native bee – compare that to around 5,000 species of mammal in the entire world! Want to learn more about our fantastic native bees? Tune in next time…
Green bee on the shores of Lake Michigan
*photo credit, Malachite Sunbird: http://academic.sun.ac.za/botzoo/bruce/pollinator_adap.htm