Understanding Pollinators and Beneficial Insects
Did you know?
- 75% of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators to produce seeds, fruits and vegetables, and that means you do too!
- Pollinators promote the necessary plant growth to produce fruits, vegetables, seeds, fibers, medicines and fuels.
- One of every three bites of food you eat relies on pollinators in the food chain.
- Some plant damage is caused by the reproductive habits of butterflies and moths.
- There are nearly 20,000 known species of bees.
- The bee is found on every continent of the world except Antarctica and in every habitat on the planet that contains insect-pollinated flowering plants.
- The largest bee in the world (Megachile pluto) grows to 1.5 inches long; the smallest (Trigona minima), only 5/64 inches.
Pollinators depend on flowering plants for food in the form of nectar and pollen. Some are able to store this energy in their hives in the form of honey and beeswax. Others are dormant during the winter months.
When it comes to pollinators, Washington county farmers are creating habitat to boost their populations and harness these critters’ value. With National Pollinator Week beginning today, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District is using the opportunity to promote native pollinators like bees.
Pollinators provide crucial assistance to fruit, vegetable and seed crops, but many species are seeing their numbers fall.
Agricultural producers across the nation work with NRCS to create ideal habitat for pollinators and increase populations in simple and significant ways. In the Tualatin River Basin, the local Soil and Water Conservation District works in partnership with NRCS and Clean Water Services to put conservation measures into practice on the ground, especially through their streamside restoration projects.
Over the last several years, Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District has been expanding these streamside restoration projects. Lacey Townsend, Tualatin Soil and Water Conservation District Manager, is excited about the increased volume of restoration work in the county and the positive role it plays in wildlife conservation, especially for pollinators.
Conservation activities like these are just some of the many offered by local agencies to help protect natural resources. More than three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants rely on pollinators to reproduce, equating to one of every three bites of food people eat. Many plants would be unable to reproduce without the help of pollinators.
Scientists attribute a number of factors, including habitat loss, disease, parasites and overuse of pesticides for pollinators’ peril. Agencies and partners across the country are working on science-based solutions to support pollinators. Each June, NRCS and conservation partners salute pollinators during “National Pollinator Week.” Read more below to learn about pollinators, threats to their survival, promising work to protect them, and how you can help!
Find National Pollinator Week Resources for the classroom on our website!
What animals are pollinators?
Vertebrates like birds and bats, as well as invertebrates like bees, butterflies, moths, and beetles.
Bees mainly pollinate fruits and vegetables, but they aren’t all as social as you might think…
Solitary bees like mason bees raise their young along instead of in a group. There are 4,000 species in U.S. of solitary bees in the U.S.; about 1/3 nest in wood or cavities – the remainder nest in the ground.
Social bees include the honey bee (which is not native to the U.S.) and bumble bees. There are 45 species of bumble bee native to the U.S.
Butterflies and moths: Consume nectar – butterflies during the day, moths at night. Pollinate a wide variety of flowering plants.
Hummingbirds: the most common US avian pollinator, they prefer tubular flowers in reddish hues.
Beetles: 40% of all insects are beetles, and they represent are large portion of the pollinators as well.
Our Native Pollinators
- Did you know that most of Oregon’s native bees do not live in a hive like honey bees do? Instead, the female builds a nest and stocks it with nectar and pollen for her young.
- Most native bees are very gentle and only sting when grabbed or stepped on. Most stinging bees are not significant pollinators.
- The Franklin’s bumble bee is one of our native pollinators that is fighting for survival elsewhere in the state. Other bumble bees and mason bees are more common sites throughout the county.
Productive Partnerships for Pollinators: Signs of Hope
Threats to native bees dominated the news this year, but there is ongoing excitement over efforts to help a small, blue native butterfly return to the region.
The Fender’s blue butterfly was considered extinct until re-discovered in 1989. On the endangered species list today, it exists at 32 sites in Oregon, including a prairie habitat near Hagg Lake.
“Fenders blue butterfly is an important pollinator in prairie habitats in the Willamette Valley, and it’s an indicator of good prairie quality and high biodiversity,” says Tom Kaye, Executive Director of the Institute for Applied Ecology.
In an effort to encourage repopulation of the Fender’s blue, a restoration program at Hagg Lake is underway to restore its native habitat. In particular, fields of native Kincaid’s lupine, vital to the Fender’s feeding and reproduction, are being restored.
Early efforts by Washington County Parks and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, working with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, have included relocating 1.25 miles of a trail that used to cut through the largest known local population of the butterfly. “This population was only discovered in the past 5 years, so management actions are just beginning,” says Elizabeth Materna at the Oregon Office of UFWS.
Redirecting foot traffic helps to protect the lupine the butterfly relies on. “The new trail is open and ready for use thanks to the Northwest Trail Alliance, who assisted us with the construction work,” says Todd Winter, Washington County Parks Superintendent. Reclamation is starting to control invasive species such as Scotch broom, Himalayan blackberry and Canadian thistle.
When hiking, you can help protect the sensitive native species and avoid spreading weeds by sticking to existing trails and avoid trampling plants that host pollinators.
If you think you’ve seen a Fender’s blue Butterfly in your prairie, contact the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and let them know. For information, see www.fws.gov/oregonfwo.
Whatever you do, be sure to sink your teeth into some of the many varieties of local produce, from fresh Hood strawberries to juicy, ripe raspberries, that depend on these hardworking critters.
Threats to Pollinators:
- habitat loss
- environmental contamination.
Start Attracting Pollinators Today!
o Pollinators need nectar and pollen sources throughout the growing season.
o Provide blooming plants from early spring to fall (plant at least three species of plants that bloom within each season).
o Use native plants wherever possible.
o Plant a variety of flowers with diverse colors and shapes.
Minimize pesticide use
o Use alternatives to insecticides and herbicides when available.
o Use Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques.
o Follow label directions and pay attention to information about toxicity to bees.
o Apply pesticides directly to targeted plants to prevent drift.
o Avoid broad-spectrum chemicals if possible.
o Spray at night, when bees are not foraging.
Protect nest sites
o Native bees use areas such as bare ground, brush piles, old tree stumps, and snags.
o Install nesting boxes for bumble bees.
Pacific Northwest Plants for Bees
- Early bloomers – willow species, Indian plum, salmon berry, red elderberry
- Mid-season bloomers – red osier dogwood, cascara, Oregon crabapple, vine maple, thimbleberry, red-flowering currant, snowberry, ninebark, mock orange, serviceberry
- Late-season bloomers – oceanspray, douglas spirea, twinberry
Fall Pollinator Tips
Courtesy of Amy Fischer, NRCS
Turns out fall may be one of the best times to think about pollinators.
For those of you who have been thinking of incorporating wildflowers into your yard or garden, now is the time to plant. Wildflower seeds do best when spread in the fall while they are dormant. Make sure your seeds have good contact with the soil.
For those of you with larger areas that you want to make pollinator friendly, now is the time to start planning. Native seed distributors tend to run out of stock fairly quickly, so now would be a good time to order for next year. It can also take a year or more to prepare a site for seeding depending on what is currently growing on the site.
While native flowering plants are preferred, any non-invasive plant that provides pollen and nectar can be beneficial. Try to select a wide variety of plants with different sizes, shapes, and colors of flowers while staying away from plants that have been altered from their native form – double petals or different colors than found in the wild. You’ll also want to choose plants that flower at different times of the year, from early spring to late fall.
If you don’t have the room (or inclination) to plant for pollinators, there are many other things you can do to help. If you have a weedy area, leave it to bloom. As long as weeds are not noxious or invasive, they can be great pollinator plants. Most of our native bees are solitary creatures with 70% of them making their nests in the ground and 30% nesting in cavities. Consider leaving areas of bare ground, leaf litter (bunch grasses make good homes for bumble bees) or dead wood. Leave as much of the field untilled as possible to limit damage to nesting sites. Practice Integrated Pest Management (IPM) to limit the need for pesticides.
Much more information, including planting guidelines, can be found on The Xerces Society website. You can also obtain more information from the NRCS, Tualatin SWCD, and OSU Extension websites.