February 14, 2023

The Birds and the Bees

A hummingbird drinks nectar from a flower. Credit: gardener41 (Flickr) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

If you've seen a butterfly land on a flower, you mostly likely witnessed something amazing—pollination, the transfer of pollen from one plant to another for fertilization. Since plants can't get up and pollinate themselves, pollinators like birds, bees, butterflies, bats, and small mammals do it for them.

Imagine a hummingbird drinking nectar from a flower in your garden. The hummingbird needs the plant's nectar for nourishment, but the plant also needs the hummingbird. When the hummingbird moves on to the next flower, it will bring bits of pollen grain from the first flower along with it, opening the door for fertilization.

Pollination is a great example of mutualism, a win-win scenario in which each organism involved in the relationship benefits. In the scene described above, the hummingbird and the flowering plant each benefit from their brief relationship; the hummingbird gets nectar (food) from the plant's flowers, and the plant gets a chance to reproduce.

Pollinators are vitally important to the health of their ecosystems. In fact, pollinators are often keystone species (species that play particularly important roles in their ecosystems). Since plants form the basis of most food chains, if you remove pollinators from an ecosystem, it can have a dramatic, negative impact on all the organisms within a food web.

>> Further Reading: Art to Save the Sea

Pollinators benefit us too. A lot of the food humans love to eat relies on pollinators—from apples, peaches, and strawberries to almonds, coffee, and chocolate. (Make this an interactive lesson by trying our Eat a Bat Fruit Salad activity from Zoology for Kids.)

Bat Fruit Salad Activity

Because so many of our favorite foods (and so many ecosystems) rely on pollinators, bad news for pollinators is bad news for humans and other animals. Unfortunately, there is some bad news for pollinators like honeybees and monarch butterflies. Habitat loss, pesticides, diseases, and other factors are contributing to pollinator population declines around the world.

Monarch butterfly
Monarch butterflies and other pollinators are in trouble. Credit: Peter Miller (Flickr) (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

There is hope. You and your family can help native pollinators by considering the following *actions:

  • Reduce your environmental impact by eliminating or cutting back on pesticide use in your garden.
  • Create a pollinator-friendly habitat in your front or backyard by planting native flowering plants.
  • Educate your friends and family, neighbors, and classmates about pollinators' important role in their ecosystems.

>> Further Reading: Fish Pee, Whale Poo, and Ocean Health

Now that you've learned about the birds and the bees and their role as pollinators, let's give thanks for these important organisms and the impact they make on our everyday lives. Since it's Pollinator Week, be sure to share this blog and the simple ways humans can help pollinators thrive. After all, when we help pollinators, we're also helping ourselves!

*Actions adapted from suggestions made on www.pollinator.org.

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