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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.

With spring in full throttle, it's the time to get excited about gardening. If you plan on growing plants, you might want to consider adding some butterfly-friendly ones to the list. Even better, put in a butterfly garden. It is a wonderful project to share with kids.

Our featured adult-level book today, Butterfly Gardening: The North American Butterfly Association Guide by Jane Hurwitz has all the information you'll need to get started.

What's inside? The first part features basic information about common garden butterflies, their life cycles, and their needs. Range maps are included so you can find out which species of butterflies to expect in your area and what some of their common caterpillar food plants are.

Because the recommended species of butterfly garden plants vary depending on where you live, in Part II members of the North American Butterfly Association have written sections to suggest flowering plants and trees specific to regions around the United States, from the state of Florida to Portland, Oregon.

Overall, the book is illustrated with gorgeous, captivating photographs. It is also packed with tried-and-true practical information from experienced butterfly experts.

If you love gardening and/or love butterflies, Butterfly Gardening: The North American Butterfly Association Guide is a fantastic resource. Be inspired by a copy today.

Butterfly Gardening Activity Suggestions:

1. Create a Certified Butterfly Garden

The North American Butterfly Association encourages butterfly gardening through its certification program. To qualify, all you need in your garden are three different butterfly nectar plants and three different caterpillar food plants. In fact, look around your yard. You may already have some butterfly-friendly plants without realizing it.

Here are some butterfly-friendly plants that we've shown over the years:

Six Sonoran Desert Butterfly Garden Plants

Both queen and monarch butterfly caterpillars regularly use rush milkweeds as food.

Gulf fritillary caterpillars feed on passion vines.

Other insects do, as well.

At times, we've found painted lady butterfly caterpillars on our hollyhocks.

Adult painted lady butterfly (on lantana, a nectar plant)

Texan crescent caterpillars feed on a plant called Arizona foldwing, Dicliptera resupinata.

Citrus trees (orange, lemon grapefruit) attract numerous giant swallowtails. Their larvae are called orange dog caterpillars.

Check our butterflies category for many more posts about butterflies and plants. (We feature many different moths, too.)

2. Participate in a Butterfly Citizen Science Project

Check online for butterfly citizen science projects near you. Currently SciStarter lists 23 projects, such as:

If you decide to participate, we'd love to hear how it goes.

More Information:

Here at Growing with Science blog, we have other posts about butterfly gardening.

butterfly gardening week
Start with Butterfly Gardening with Children - which has links to a week of butterfly gardening posts, including Five great nectar plants for butterflies

Check out our growing list of Moth and Butterfly Books for Kids

Visit our National Moth Week 2017 post for related links and information.

Intrigued by the Butterfly Gardening book? If you visit the Princeton University Press website, they offer a PDF of Chapter 1

Publisher: Princeton University Press; Flexibound edition (April 10, 2018)
ISBN-10: 0691170347
ISBN-13: 978-0691170343

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher's representative for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

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Here it is the end of November already and we still are seeing caterpillars out and about.

There's silk, holes and frass on some of the hollyhock leaves.

Those belong to the painted lady butterfly caterpillars, Vanessa cardui. 

Painted lady caterpillars vary a lot in color. This one may be lighter because it is a color variation or maybe because it just molted.

They feed on a range of plants, from thistles to sunflowers, but painted lady caterpillars always have a patch of silk around them.

The adult butterflies migrate this time of year. We often see them feeding on lantana flowers. You can see adult butterflies in this post from November 2008.

Once I finished taking photographs of those, over on the Texas yellow bells, Tecoma stans variety 'Orange Jubilee,' I found another sizable caterpillar feeding.

This is a rustic sphinx caterpillar, Manduca rustica. In the past we've found them on desert willow and cats claw vine. (You can see an adult rustic sphinx moth in this previous post from the beginning of November in 2014.) They are common throughout the southern parts of North America.

Although it looks a bit lethargic above, it was still able to crawl around.

Actually, it was nice that it was a bit slow. I could zoom in on some of the details.

For example, in this close up of the head, you can see the caterpillar's eye as the black dot right above it's black front leg.

At the other end is the spiky tail spine.

Sphinx moth caterpillars often have a "tail," which is what gives them the common name hornworm.

Caterpillars of painted lady butterflies and rustic sphinx moths in the same week. How cool is that?