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A few weeks ago, the wolfberry was in bloom and covered with insect visitors.

Today the Texas sage is blanketed with flowers.

We had a lot of rain this month, and Texas sage plants bloom in response to humidity and rain.

The insects respond, too.

The thumb-sized carpenter bees caught my eye, but they were too fast for a close up.

Does this look like a honey bee?

Surprise! It is a syrphid fly. It was more cooperative and sat still for its photograph.

Here's another smaller syrphid fly (sometimes called a flower fly.) It also posed.

The honey bees looked strange. Instead of the usual golden brown, most were covered with white pollen.

Would you believe the thorax of this sweat bee is bright green?

It looks like it is covered with snow.

All these insects are pollinators, which means they carry pollen from plant to plant and help many types of plants produce viable seeds. Some recent reports have shown that pollinators may need extra assistance in order to survive and thrive. Check out a recent article which suggests being messy in the garden is a good way to provide places for pollinators to shelter over winter.

Messy? That's easy to do!

When I visited the yard this morning to take photographs for this post, first I checked to see what was flowering. Flowers are great places to find insects.

The little leaf cordia (Cordia parviflolia) attracted my eye. It was covered with clusters of white blossoms.

The flowers were beautiful, but nothing was visiting them. In contrast, the plant next to it was humming and buzzing.

That's the wolfberry, Lycium species. It isn't much to look at from a human perspective.

From an insect's perspective, however, it was an open grocery store.

The honey bees and digger bees were lining up to sip nectar.

Smaller bees were wrapped around the anthers harvesting pollen.

When it was done, the underside of this one's abdomen was white with pollen.

Snout butterflies visited the flowers, too. They are drab when sitting like this.

Surprise!

Numerous flower flies and a few wasps flitted around. This flower or hover fly has a really big head compared to the rest of its body.

From the street (top photograph) the wolfberry bush looks like a small cluster of brownish branches on the left between the bright green Texas sage on the bottom left and the little leaf cordia. If you didn't know the wolfberry was there, you wouldn't even see it. Just the same, it provides food for hundreds of insects which in turn pollinate our gardens and serve as food for wildlife.

I hope I can continue to convince our homeowner's association that it deserves to stay.

It's National Pollinator Week from June 18-24, 2018. Let's celebrate with some science-themed activities.

What is Pollination?

Pollination is an essential process for plants to create healthy fruit and seeds. Scientifically, pollination is the movement of pollen (the colorful powdery dust) from anther of a flower to the stigma of the same or another flower.

(“Mature flower diagram” by Mariana Ruiz LadyofHats. Public Domain image at Wikimedia Commons.)

From the diagram it seems simple and straightforward, but pollination takes many different forms depending on the plant. Some types, for example grasses, produce light pollen grains that may be carried by the wind or water from plant to plant. Other plants, for example squash and cucumbers, require insects, birds, or bats to carry the pollen.

Without this pollination assistance, fruit and/or seeds would not be formed. In fact, about a third of the food we eat is the direct result of pollination by insects.

Why Bees?

Bees are important pollinators. More than 100 agricultural crops in the United States are pollinated by bees. Examples of bee-pollinated crops include watermelons, cantaloupe, citrus, and apples. (See a more complete list of plants pollinated by insects).

While a worker bee is in a flower gathering nectar, pollen from the anther often sticks to her hairy body. Because the bee generally visits a number of the same type of flower in a patch, she will rub some of the pollen off onto the stigma of another flower and complete pollination. Some flowers such as orchids have elaborate mechanisms to make sure bees are dusted with pollen when they visit.

Part of the reason honey bees are so important as pollinators is that they actively seek out flowers with pollen, unlike pollinators such as bats and hummingbirds that are primarily interested in nectar. Pollen stored in the hive is used as a source of protein in feeding the developing larvae.

Activity:  Keep a Pollinator Diary

Have you seen any pollinators today?

The first step towards understanding pollinators is being able to recognize them. Obtain or make a small notebook for each child. For the next seven days, have them write down or draw pictures of any pollinators they see each day. If they have trouble finding pollinators nearby, consider visiting a zoo, park, or community garden where pollinators might be active.

Note any details, like:

  • What kind of flower is it visiting?
  • Does the pollinator have pollen on its body?
  • If so, what color is the pollen?
  • What time of day it is
  • What the weather is like

This honey bee is visiting a rosemary flower and it is covered with white pollen.

This hummingbird is visiting aloe flowers.

They may use the information they gather to:

  1. Learn to identify common pollinators
  2. Further understand behaviors and habitats of pollinators
  3. Research what plants are visited by pollinators in your area
  4. Design and plant a pollinator garden (see links below for more information)

Extensions:  Take photographs and record the information in an online diary format.

To get excited about pollinators, check out this video:


The Beauty of Pollination - Wings of Life

 

Related Activity Suggestions:

Looking for more information? Try our growing list of children's books about pollinationat Science Books for Kids.