Monday, June 21, 2021

Flight of the Pollinators

For over a month now, pollinators here in the mountains have been working their life keeping magic.  Each of these winged creatures participating in the cycle of life of the flora that covers the forest floors and meadows.  The first pollinators to appear as Spring rolls in, are the mason and carpenter bees who are able to withstand the cooler temperatures followed by bumble bees and then the smaller breeds of solitary, ground dwelling bees which includes polyester bees among many.

In Lepidoptera land, moths that have overwintered in the Adirondacks emerge from their cocoons as well as butterflies that are able to withstand the slowly warming temperatures have made their winged displays known.  The eastern tiger swallowtail (pictured here) is one of the first butterflies to soar the fields and roadsides.  They are not alone, the checkered and mustard whites, orange and clouded sulfurs and some skippers join them.  Some of the migrating butterflies have began to arrive back to the mountains beginning the first week of May, so you may have observed white and red admirals, northern crescents and common blues and whites with monarchs to arrive here by the end of this month.

Hummingbirds have been present for weeks and hover over our feeders awaiting the first blooms of wild and planted flowers.  The columbine in our pollinator garden appears to be their favorite.

Some rarely mentioned pollinators are the lady and soldier beetle who pollinate a majority of the water lilies that float upon the surface of the waters that flow through the hills along with the pickerelweed and water irises.

The hoverfly and bee fly are also pollinating partners.  Both of these types of flies are hairy enough to collect and distribute pollen on their quest for a tasty treat of nectar.

Everywhere you walk in the great outdoors, there are pollinators busy transporting pollen from trees and flowering plants.  There is no need to worry about what plants these creatures love the most, plant a flower any flower and know that a pollinator of one kind or the other, Thanks you!

Interesting Facts about Pollinators:
  • Many people think only of allergies when they hear the word pollen, but pollen plays a vital role in the health of our environment. Pollen, the plant’s male sex cells, must be transferred from the anther to the stigma of the same or another flower for the plant to produce fruit and seed. While some plants are self- or wind-pollinated, the great majority of flowering plants cannot move pollen without help from an animal pollination.
  • Pollinators make up a significant portion of the total diversity of species on this planet. In fact, between 200,000 – 300,000 invertebrate species—such as butterflies, beetles, moths, flies, mosquitoes, and bees—are estimated to serve globally as pollinators.
  • A majority of plants, more than 70 percent of species, depend on insects, birds, bats, and other animals to transport the pollen for
  • Worldwide, at least thirty percent of 1500 crop plant species depend on pollination by bees and other insects.
  • Pollinators play a significant role in the production of over 150 food crops in the U.S.—among them apples, almonds, blueberries, cranberries, kiwis, melons, pears, plums, and squash.
  • Pollinators are important in the production of an estimated 30 percent of the human diet, fibers, edible oils, medicines created from plants, and others important products around the world.
  • In the U.S., the annual benefit of managed honey bees to agriculture was estimated as $14.6 billion.
  • Native, unmanaged pollinators—primarily bees— are estimated to contribute $3 billion to the value of crops pollination in the U.S.
  • The southeastern blueberry bee illustrates the economic significance of native pollinator In her few weeks as an adult, a single female bee visits about 50,000 blueberry flowers.
  • Three dozen or more native bee species provide pollination services on a single farm and can deliver sufficient pollination even for crops with a “heavy” pollination requirement such as watermelon. In watermelon up to 1,000 grains of pollen must be deposited on each flower within only a few hours to promote fruiting.
  • Bumblebees have long been recognized as important pollinators of crops and native plants. In recent years, they have been reared commercially and used to pollinate greenhouse crops, particularly tomatoes and eggplant.

Photo by Jackie Woodcock

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Jackie Woodcock was born and lives in the Adirondack Mountains. She is an apiarist, lepidopterist, conservationist, teacher, writer, artist, and a co-owner of SkyLyfeADK. You can find her SkyLyfeADK on Instagram and Facebook.

5 Responses

  1. Boreas says:

    Another great article. I usually see Mourning Cloaks in my area first.

    I had a thought when reading this – By feeding hummingbirds, are we inadvertantly lessening their effect as pollinators? Food for thought.

    • JB says:

      Boreas, good point. I know that people will not like to hear this, but I think that bird feeders in general in a place like the Adirondacks are typically not as ecologically friendly as is usually believed. Although full disclosure, I am also strictly an opponent of intentionally introducing things into the environment in uncontrollable ways. And believe me, put corn and other junk out and it will be spread around uncontrollably. Just this past month, I found the carcass of a corncob type bird feeder on the ground deep in the forest behind my house, at least a mile from the next nearest house. It had probably been there for at least a year. Presumably it was dragged there by a squirrel. Sure didn’t come from me.

      • Boreas says:

        Sounds more like the work of a ‘coon. They are basically small bears.

        I will probably continue feeding hummers in early spring, but once things start to flower – leave them to their own devices.

        • JB says:

          Yeah, you are probably right. Squirrels cannot drag heavy things for miles. We used to have feeders about ten years ago, so I definitely understand the appeal. But I have stopped believing the ecological arguments in support of supplemental feeding of birds.

          I have probably become a hopeless purist in that regard. For example, I also don’t believe the popular argument that, in the grand scheme of things, European honeybees are helping native plants, which have until recently been pollinated exclusively by native animals–including native bees, which apicultural honeybees have recently been displacing from one of our other properties further south. Crops are another story, and imported honeybees are needed there. But the “honeybee die-off” that most people talk about ignores the fact that native bees, while still threatened, are tending to fare much better in North America than their domesticated non-native cousins.

          The moral of the previous story in this case is that once you really start looking, it is amazing just how much anthropogenic stuff is out there–more than most would believe. The most interesting thing that we have ever found on our Adirondack property (man-made that is, natural things are much more interesting in my opinion) was a plastic bag pretty far from any sign of past human occupation. I was digging around below a 50 year old hemlock and happened to unearth it about six inches down. Printed on it was: “Carrots/Carrottes; Quebec; Introducing the NEW plastic bag!”

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