While visiting our blog, you have also been checking out older posts. Our second most popular post viewed in 2018 was a 2014 post, Identifying Your Pest – with Poop?. There are a lot of budding scatologists out there.
Other IPM Blogs – Besides ThinkIPM, we have more dedicated blogs, and you don’t need to be a specialist to subscribe to them. Here are some of the more popular posts:
Our new Spotted Lanternfly video, Have YOU Spotted Lanternfly Egg Masses was just posted, but it has already reached the number two spot. This invasive insect is getting a lot of attention and we need your help to keep track of it in New York.
“He that plants trees loves others besides himself.” – Thomas Fuller
Have you considered planting a tree for pollinators? Eastern redbud is a good early flowering choice currently on sale at many Soil & Water Conservation District tree and shrub sales. Photo Credit: Karen flickr
Pollinators have been big news over the past few years. Whether you are a farmer, golf course superintendent, landscaper, gardener, or just a random person walking down the street, it is likely that you have heard the importance of protecting pollinators and doing your part to increase their habitat. We dedicated an annual conference to the subject back in 2015 and have penned numerous blog posts that cover pollinator topics.
Often the call to create habitat comes in the form of planting pollinator attractive flowers, whether they be plants for your formal garden bed or a swath of wildflower meadow along the edge of your property. For your garden, resources abound on choosing great plants. On the Pollinator Partnership webpage, you can type in your zip code and it will provide you with a guide to your particular Ecoregional Planting Guide. The Xerces Society has numerous guidelines describing how to establish wildflower meadows. And Audubon International has a new program targeting the creation of milkweed and other pollinator friendly wildflowers on golf courses called Monarchs in the Rough.
These resources, and many like them, provide wonderful information, but an opportunity that is often missed is choosing the larger plants – trees and shrubs, for their pollinator benefits. Dr. Dan Potter and Bernadette Mach put together a Woody Ornamentals for Bee-Friendly Landscapes piece for the Ohio Valley Region. The resource includes whether the tree or shrub is native or nonnative, how often the trees are visited by bees, and bloom time.
The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation teamed up to create a searchable database of plants with Special Value to Native Bees.
Why bring this up now? Because many County Soil & Water Conservation Districts are hosting their annual tree and shrub sales. Often these are small, bare root seedlings, but if you are looking for an inexpensive step to up your pollinator game, consider purchasing from them.
If you have the room for multiple species, try to choose trees and shrubs that bloom at different times to provide a food source throughout the year.
PUBLISHED ON SEPTEMBER 26, 2017 | Courtesy Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County
KEMPTVILLE, ONTARIO. — On my twice-monthly drive on Highway 416 between Prescott and Ottawa, I pass the sign for Kemptville, a town of about 3,500 which lies roughly 40 km north of the St. Lawrence. It has a rich history, and no doubt is a fine place to live, but one of these days I need to stop there to verify that Kemptville is in fact a village of surpassing tidiness. (It’s Exit 34 in case anyone wants to take some field notes and get back to me.)
Most of us would prefer not to live in totally unkempt surroundings, but Western culture may have taken sanitation a bit too far. Claims that cleanliness is next to godliness have yet to be proven by science, but research does indicate a neat, well-coiffed landscape is bad for bees and other pollinators.
Dandelions are an essential early-season flowers for our 416 species of wild bees in New York.
With all due respect to honeybees, they are seldom required to produce fruits and vegetables. Please don’t spread this around, as I do not want to tarnish their public image. But the fact is that wild bees, along with other insects and the odd vertebrate here and there, do a bang-up job pollinating our crops, provided there are enough types of wild plants (i.e., messiness) around to keep them happy for the rest of the season.
As landscapes become neater and less diverse, wild bees cannot find enough natural foods to keep them in the neighborhood for the few weeks of the year we’d like them to wallow around in our apple or cucumber flowers. In sterile, highly manipulated environments like almond groves and suburban tracts, honeybees are critical.
Dr. Scott McArt, a bee specialist at Cornell’s Dyce Laboratory for Bee Research, says there are an estimated 416 species of wild bees in New York State. When I estimate stuff, the numbers tend to be less exact, such as “more than three,” but I’ve met Dr. McArt, and I trust him on this count. Dr. McArt is quick to point out that wild critters take care of things just fine in most places. He has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. My object is not to malign honeybees, but to point out that if we learn to live with a bit more unkemptness, we will improve the health of wild bees, wildflowers, food crops, and ourselves in the process.
Dr. McArt has cataloged exactly 110 species of wild bees visiting apple blossoms in commercial orchards, and in the vast majority of NYS orchards studied, honeybees have no bearing on pollination rates. There was a presentation about it at the 2015 Pollinator Conference.
Messiness also takes pressure off managed honeybees, an increasingly fragile species, by providing them a rich source of wild, non-sprayed nectar and pollen. Orchardists do not spray insecticides when their crops are flowering because they know it will kill bees. But many fungicides, which are not intended to kill insects, are sprayed during bloom. One of the unexpected findings of research done through the Dyce Lab is that non-lethal sprays like fungicides are directly linked with the decline of both wild bees and honeybees. But banning a particular chemical is not a panacea—the situation is far more complex than that. What is needed to save bees of all stripes is a real change in mindset regarding landscape aesthetics.
This garden at Bethpage State Park Golf Course is an excellent example of entropy. Primarily established with native wildflowers, there are also a significant number of volunteers. NYS IPM staff found over 100 different species of insects, primarily bees and wasps, taking advantage of the bounty.
Increasing the entropy on one’s property is as easy as falling off a log (which of course is a literal example of increased entropy). Pollinators need plants which bloom at all different times, grow at various heights, and have a multitude of flower shapes and structures. For greater abundance and diversity of wild flowering plants, all you need to do is stop. Stop constantly mowing everything. Choose some places to mow once a year in the late fall, and others where you will mow every second third year. Stop using herbicides, both the broadleaf kind and the non-selective type.
Before you know it, elderberry and raspberry will spring up. Woody plants like dogwoods and viburnums will start to appear. Coltsfoot and dandelions, essential early-season flowers, will come back. Asters and goldenrod (which by the way do not cause allergies), highly important late-season sources of nectar and pollen, will likewise return.
Despite their unassuming flowers, Virginia creeper attracts a large number of pollinating bees and wasps. Photo: Joellen Lampman
Wild grape, virgin’s bower, Virginia creeper and wild cucumber will ramble around, without any help whatsoever. However, you may choose to help this process along by sowing perennial or self-seeding wildflowers like purple coneflower, foxglove, bee balm, mint, or lupine. Even dandelion is worth planting. You’ll not only get more wild pollinators, you’ll also see more birds. Redstarts, tanagers, orioles, hummingbirds, catbirds, waxwings and more will be attracted to such glorious neglect. No feeders required.
I strongly advocate for more chaos in the plant department, even if the local Chamber of Commerce or Tourism Board frowns upon it. Remember, just because you’re an unkempt community doesn’t mean you have to change the name of your town.
Protect Pollinators. With these new Forever stamps, released on August 2nd, It’s all about the bees and the butterflies. Here, the monarch butterfly and western honey bee symbolize the thousands (yes, thousands) of native bees, hover and flower flies, beetles, wasps, butterflies, and moths at work throughout the Northeast, and across the continent on behalf of — well, there’s us, of course.
Two iconic pollinators. Four iconic wildflowers. Thank you, USPS.
In the U.S. roughly one-third of all food crops depend on pollinators. And of course, we do love our flowers.
But it’s not just about us. It’s about biodiversity. Consider habitat fragmentation. Example? One house at a time, a forested tract grows houses. Then five at a time; then 10. Then maybe more and wider roads, more and bigger buildings.
Fewer and fewer flowers — and their pollinators.
And habitat loss is a biggie. It makes for less forage, fewer nesting sites. For losses in abundance and diversity. For reduced genetic diversity — and increased risk of extinction. Here in New York, among bees alone two pollinators are endangered and eight more are rare.
Going, going, gone? Image courtesy Emma Mullen.
And monarch butterflies? Starting in late summer, monarchs focus on fattening up to prepare for their epic, multi-generational migration to their overwintering site in Mexico, and it’s nectar they need. But a lawn won’t fatten them — or help other pollinators make it through the cold of a northern winter. Perhaps it’s time to consider making of your lawn an ornament of sorts, beautifully framed with flowers and meadows.
Among core values of IPM: building biodiversity. Why? Biodiversity is at the heart of healthy ecosystems. And healthy ecosystems keep us healthy too. So we thank you, USPS, for reminding us of to the beauty and importance of pollinators. All pollinators, and the biodiversity that supports them.
June 19, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on It’s Pollinator Week. Read All About It.
It’s summer; the goldenrods will be blooming soon, with bumble bees buzzing around them. Photo courtesy David Cappaert.
When we think about bees, we mostly think about honeybees … a European native brought here by the very first colonists. Now honeybees are struggling, hammered by a constellation of 20-plus diseases and parasites — not to mention a range of insecticides and fungicides.
About 450 species of wild bees also populate our fields and gardens. They have similar problems. And they’re losing habitat.
This is serious business: we depend on pollinators for at least one-third of our food supply. Altogether, these pollinators boost New York’s economy by $1.2 billion.
And consider all those other critters: flower flies and hover flies, wasps, butterflies and moths; even hummingbirds — they are legion, they work hard for their living; they help too.
NYSIPM funds educational projects like this. Photo courtesy Jen Stengle.
What to do? For starters, we can make all these helpers even more at home in our fields and gardens.
Indeed, it’s through bringing together everything IPM knows about host and pest biology and habitat; about pesticides and their EIQs; about habitat protection and biodiversity — these are the things we excel at, and these are what we’re putting into play now to find the answers we need.
Ah … answers. Such as?
Since protecting non-target organisms is core to IPM, we helped advise the governor’s Pollinator Task Force in crafting a Pollinator Protection Plan — itself informed by a national strategy to promote the health of all pollinators. And our flagship IPM Annual Conference highlighted an IPM problem-solution approach for the 100 participants: farmers, consultants, beekeepers (but of course), landscapers, researchers, policy makers, greenhouse growers, and more.
Check it out — not only because you care about your health and your food supply, but because you care about this beautiful world we live in.
March 29, 2017
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Earth Day IPM for birds and bees — and native plants that nourish them
We’re starting this post with a detour. But we have little choice. Before you go shopping around for landscape plants, you need to know the backstory.
Invasive plants, trees, shrubs, vines and flowers, many of them brought from afar because yes, they’re lovely in the landscape, have become a bit too much of a good thing. In part it’s because they didn’t evolve here. That could mean the critters — mostly insects or pathogens that co-evolved with them and helped keep them in check — don’t live here. Where that’s the case, there’s little here to naturally keep them in check.
OK, sumac berries aren’t all that tasty. But for migratory songbirds powering their way north, they offer needed nutrients. (Photo credit Mary Holland)
True, not all imported plants are invasive. But it’s all too easy to dig up a seedling or sucker from an invasive when you don’t know the extent of the problem. Which is partly why New York passed the Invasive Species Prevention Act in 2012.
Native plants, on the other hand, are less likely to get out of hand. Plus they can encourage biological control by attracting predatory or parasitoid insects — the good guys that prey on insect pests. And promoting these good guys is key to good IPM.
So with Earth Day in mind and planting season at hand, let’s note this threesome of invasive trees: angelica tree, sycamore maple, and Amur cork tree. These landscape trees are no longer for sale in New York. For a threesome of attractive natives that can fill their place — while helping the birds and bees — consider the merits of (drum roll) staghorn sumac, Juneberry, and white fringetree.
As we speak, migrating birds are stripping last year’s crop of staghorn sumac seeds, now mostly dry and withered but still nourishing, to power their northbound flight. Love birds? Your sumac planting will benefit robins, bluebirds, thrushes, catbirds, cardinals, chickadees, starlings, wild turkey, pileated woodpecker — and that’s just for starters. Soon its tiny yellowish flowers will attract bees and butterflies. Fiery autumn color. Drought resistant, and an excellent soil stabilizer on hillsides.
Juneberry isn’t your traditional hummingbird plant but welcoming even so. And first to flower means first to fruit — nourishment for many nesting songbirds. (Photo credit Hans. Thank you, Pixabay)
Juneberry (Amelanchier spp., with more common names than you can shake a stick at) is also an early bloomer that draws hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies. When its fruits ripen in early summer, robins, waxwings, cardinals, vireos, tanagers, and grosbeaks make a point of stopping by for a meal. You might too — the subtle flavor, shape, and color are reminiscent of blueberries. Grows well in full sun or part shade; adapts to wet or dry soils — but note soil must be acidic.
And then — raise your hand if you’ve seen our native witch hazel. This late bloomer is (metaphorically, that is) the golden chrysanthemum of the woods, daring to blossom when other trees have tucked in for a long winter’s nap. How to describe its flowers? Ribbonlike. Spidery. Kinky. Confetti-like — these all serve for a tree that’s the only show in town. But … if pollinators have tucked in too, how to play the pollination game? Turns out a native moth, the sallows, comes out on chilly nights — shivering its flight muscles and raising its body temperature upward of 50 degrees, then flying off search of food. And during a warm spell, bees will sup here too. Yes, this tree benefits birds and wildlife too, but more on that another time.
Witch hazel makes a lovely understory tree. Prefers part shade and moist but well-drained soil.
Common to all? They fit neatly under power lines.
And now a plug for IPM: it’s easy to talk about the birds and bees. Yet so many critters are on our side. Understandably we shudder when wasps and flies come to mind. But consider the scads of wasp and fly species that are on our side. Hey, plenty of wasps don’t even have stingers; they care only to lay their eggs within pest insects. Flies? Ever heard of flower flies? They do what their names suggests, while their larvae prey on aphids and thrips. And there’s scores more good guys in the family they belong to.
Our gratitude to Paul Hetzler, CCE St. Lawrence County, for letting us use this post. The IPM connection? ID those fuzzy beasts before you add them to your “warm and fuzzy” petting zoo.
When I was a kid I was fascinated by caterpillars but had trouble with the word. To me, the sweet little woolly-bear traversing my hand was a “calipitter.” It was only years later I learned that a calipitter is an instrument used to measure the diameter of a caterpillar to the nearest micron.
Caterpillars continue to interest me, although I no longer find them universally cute. Imagine the letdown and loss of innocence following the discovery that some of these fuzzy, fascinating, gentle creatures that tickled their way across my hand were venomous. This revelation was akin to finding out Bambi was a dangerous carnivore, which in fact is a fear that haunts me to this day.
Stunning — and striking in a less-than-pleasant sort of way. White-marked tussock moth larvae, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
It seems a further injustice that many of the so-called “stinging-hair caterpillars” are among the cutest and most colorful out there. But at least they are not aggressive the way yellow jackets can be. They are strictly defensive, the defense being hollow hairs connected to poison glands that secrete toxins. The chemical cocktail is species-specific, and often involves serotonin, histamine, formic acid and various amino acids.
The hairs inject their charge only when the critter is roughly handled. Or falls down your shirt, or gets in your sleeping bag, or is pressed against your skin in some other way. Their stings cause a painful rash which could persist a week or more. Some people have more severe reactions requiring medical treatment.
You’d think poisonous caterpillars would be from exotic locales, but to my knowledge all in our region are natives. One large group is the tussock moth clan. These caterpillars look about as terrifying as teddy bears. Two examples are the hickory (Lophocampa caryae) and white-marked (Orgyia leucostigma) tussock moths, common locally. I’ve had many encounters with these and their kin over the years.
Hickory tussock caterpillars are mostly white, peppered with a smattering of longer black “whiskers.” White-marked tussock moth larvae look like they’re fresh out of clown school, with a yellow-and-black striped pattern, bright red head, a pair of super-long black appendages as a headdress, a row of lateral white hairs on each side, and four bright yellow (sometimes white) tufts behind their heads like a row of smoke stacks.
The stubby brown hag moth caterpillar (Phobetron pithecium) definitely does not look like a caterpillar. It could easily be mistaken for a dust-bunny or bit of lint. Sometimes known as the monkey slug, this oddity has eight furry, arm-like appendages and should get a prize for its resemblance to a plush toy. If you come across the monkey slug, do resist the impulse to cuddle it.
Much like the way poison-arrow frogs dress flamboyantly to advertise they’re a poor choice as prey, some toxic caterpillars have paint jobs even brighter than those of the tussock moths. For example, the brilliantly attired stinging rose (Parasa indetermina) and saddleback (Acharia stimulea) caterpillars might make you think some practical joker has set out miniature party piñatas. Eye-catching and bristling with barbs, no one is going to mistake them for a plush toy.
Fortunately, many poisonous caterpillars look the part. The Io moth (Automeris io), a huge moth bearing a striking eye-spot shape on each wing, starts out as a neon-green (red until its first molt) caterpillar crowded with serious-looking barbs. Going further afield, the giant silkworm moth caterpillar (Lonomia oblique) of southern South America has been responsible for as many as 500 human deaths — and it looks terrifying, too.
Keep in mind that just about every fuzzy caterpillar, venomous or not, can induce asthma. Those hairs are fragile and readily become airborne. Pests such as the eastern and forest tent caterpillars — and gypsy moths too — sometimes occur in numbers so great enough to trigger asthma, especially in children. Even the beloved woolly bears (many species of the family Arctiinae) trigger attacks in some people.
What to do for a sting? Use Scotch or packing tape on your skin to pull out embedded caterpillar hairs (along with a few of your own). Wash the area and isolate clothing you think might harbor stray hairs. Monitor for several hours for signs of a serious reaction and otherwise treat the rash the way you would any sting with calamine lotion, antihistamines, or hydrocortisone lotion as directed by your doctor.
Let’s hope that having a few bad apples around will not keep you from appreciating caterpillars. Even the ugliest ones grow up to be moths and butterflies, many of which are beautiful. And they’re all important pollinators. Stay away from the ones described here but feel free to investigate all others.
Just be sure to take along your callipitter.
June 16, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on Got the Buzz? Pollinator Week Coming Up June 20 – 26
Pollinator week — coming right up on June 20 — celebrates all pollinators. There’s honey bees, of course, but also native bees. In fact, NYS IPM-funded research has counted 104 known species alone in New York’s orchards. Of course, bees pollinate more than just orchards, and 450 species all told call New York home — including two on New York’s endangered species list. Collectively these bees contribute upward of $9 billion in pollination services to New York’s economy — and we’re not even talking the value of honey itself.
Gotta love bats, even if they don’t pollinate flowers in the Northeast, They offer so many other ecosystem services. Mosquito control, for starters.
For sure: we can’t leave out butterflies, moths, flies (think flower flies, hover flies, and more), wasps, beetles, and hummingbirds. If we lived in the Southwest, we’d be thanking bats as well.
Now, though, let’s focus on bees, since entomologists have discovered so many cool things about how flowers attract bees — and vice versa. Those scientists have found an array of captivating “who’d a thunk it” ways these symbiotic mutualists have evolved to do each other right.
Yet before we go down that track, a little detour — pointing you to info from NYS IPM’s “Protecting Pollinators” conference. Start with the first two: Emma Mullen’s fascinating talk and superb visuals, and Scott McArt’s tour of Cornell’s research, now in full swing.
OK, back to our symbiotic mutualists — the blossoms and the bees. Examples? Consider color. Bees don’t see red, but they do see ultraviolet. In fact, many flowers equip themselves with “come hither” ultraviolet landing platforms, landing strips, or both.
OK, bees don’t see red. But gaillardia — blanket flower — has a trick up its sleeve.
And how about the electric fields wafting up from flower petals? “Everyone knows that bees buzz around flowers in their quest for nectar,” reports Marc Lallanilla at LiveScience. “But scientists have now learned that flowers are buzzing right back — with electricity.”
Gaillardia again … with UV guidance to the goods.
Why? That electric charge advertises — you guessed it — a nectar source. On the other hand, a blossom just depleted of nectar needs to recharge its nectar reserves. So it emits a different signal, one that alerts the bees to just fly on by. After all, bees can learn. And they don’t have time to waste visiting pretty flowers if the nectar is gone. Bees might learn to ignore a flower with a reputation for false advertising (as it were) — even after the flower had topped off its tank.
And then … there’s also “buzz pollination” where flowers wait till a bee buzzes at the right frequency, then reward it with a cache of pollen. True, these flowers don’t offer free drinks (that would be nectar) as a reward. But the pollen they offer is, for some species of bees, reward enough. After all, it’s what they feed their young. Note that we said “for some species.” Bumble bees are great buzz pollinators, as are many native bees. But honey bees never learned that trick. (The science behind it ? Science Direct and Journal of the Kansas Entomological Society.)
Planting potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, and peppers (all relatives in the Solanaceae family) or pumpkins, zucchinis, and blueberries? Know that native bees are your go-to experts in buzz pollination. (If you live, say, in a high-rise with a window gardens and no access to rooftop beekeepers, you could buy a VegiBee pollinator and do it yourself.)
Of course, not every flower does any or all of the above. If you want to do right by bees, think before you plant and focus on these four things:
Plant for continuous bloom — pollinators don’t get down time; your garden shouldn’t either. Is your yard tiny? Try collaborating with your neighbors and think of it as yet another form of symbiotic mutualism.
Is this a bee-friendly flower? Example: if you love roses, plant those old-timey kinds with the simple “single” flowers. Densely clustered petals just get in the way. (While roses provide little in the way of nectar, they’ve got pollen to spare.)
Cluster your plants. Groups of long-blooming flowers, rather than single plants scattered here and there, offer bees a better use of their time and energy.
Nectar sounds juicy, but pollinators need straight-up water too. Just be sure to empty your bird feeder or plant saucer every few days. Yes, even mosquitoes pollinate flowers. But that’s not reason enough to invite them into your yard. (Float a piece of wood in the water to give bees a safe landing place.)
What to plant? Variety is the spice of life.
Trees and shrubs: oak, cherry, willow, basswood, birch, tulip poplar, crabapple, blueberry, red maple, pine, hawthorn, linden, redbud, arrowwood viburnum, chokecherry, Rhododendron canadense, spicebush, gray dogwood, serviceberry, New Jersey tea, buttonbush, summersweet, Virginia sweetspire, American witchhazel.
Perennials for sun: aster, goldenrod, sunflower, Joe Pye weed, violet (also does well in shade), hardy geranium, black-eyed Susan, iris, milkweed, penstemon, phlox, threadleaf coreopsis, bee balm, cardinal flower, mountain mint, purple coneflower, columbine, liatris.
Perennials for shade: woodland phlox, blue lobelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, indian pink, wood aster, Dutchman’s breeches, violets (also does well in sun).
Weeds: OK, so you don’t need to plant dandelions; they plant themselves. They aren’t native and some people can’t stand them. But they’re here and they provide crucial early-season food for bees.
So there you have it. You too can protect pollinators.
March 24, 2016
by Mary M. Woodsen Comments Off on pollination potpourri: wasps, moths, flies, beetles, and oh yes … bees
Let’s start with a short pre-blog quiz: which of these native insects pollinate plants?
all of the above — plus flies, wasps, butterflies, moths
The answer? #4. If you left out flies and wasps because they freak you out … well, just know there’s scads of different wasps and flies — not to mention bees, moths, and beetles — that’ll pollinate your posies, not to mention your apples and pears, your melons and cukes.
Male carpenter bees seem to help protects nests. Get too close and they’ll act aggressive — even though they don’t have stingers. Females could sting but won’t unless you start handling them.
Let’s look at bees first — native bees! Because the natives outnumber honey bees (originally imported from Europe) in apple orchards. A NYS IPM-funded study from 2009 – 2011 found 102 species of native bees busily pollinating apple flowers — and Cornell’s Bryan Danforth, who led that study, estimates that the native bees outperform honeybees by 200 to 300 percent. Yes, honeybees have a value-added bonus: honey rang the registers in New York at over $10 million in 2015. But if apples or pears (or blueberries or strawberries) are your crop of concern, look to the natives.
Think fruit growers are the only ones to benefit? Dairy farmers take note — leaf-cutter bees pollinate your alfalfa, according to Cornell’s Emma Mullen at NYS IPM’s pollinator conference in 2015. And while many vegetable crops are wind- or gravity-pollinated, key crops like melons, squash, pumpkins and cukes need a pollinators’ help.
Syrphid flies? Harmless. This one’s looking for a flower to pollinate.
So … what about flies? More than meets the eye. Finding New York-specific info is a struggle, so let’s just note that vast numbers of fly species all over the world make their living off nectar. Spreading pollen around is a sideline for them but critical for us. In fact, ecologist Alison Parker (University of Toronto) modeled how bees and flies visit flowers — and showed that lots of bees might not always benefit the flowers because bees take so much pollen. But in this computer model, pollination increased with each fly visit.
Not only that, but with some (perhaps many), their larvae serve as biocontrols for crop-damaging aphids. Most nectar-guzzling flies resemble bees or wasps — after all, if you’re harmless but you look like something that defends yourself with a stinger, you’re more likely to be left alone.
What about beetles, moths, butterflies? Beetles were the very first insect pollinators, with ancient evolutionary origins — and according to the US Forest Service, a global pollination rate of 88 percent. The butterflies and moths? Ranking their value is a tough call, but hey — they have a job; they show up. Actually, those second-shift moths way outnumber day-duty butterflies. But you don’t often see them at work, so we don’t know how much good they do, especially since sometimes their larvae can be troublesome for certain plants.
How about wasps? If you’ve done enough noodling around online to see that wasps do little in the way of pollination because their bodies are hairless, unable to capture and carry much pollen, keep looking. No, they’re not as competent as bees. But many do have hairy bodies, and they do help. Plus they’re great garden predators, tackling all sorts of pests.
Bringing it all together, a NYS IPM-funded project now underway at the State University of New York at Cobleskill will evaluate the efficacy of different native plant combinations in attracting native pollinators of every stripe and color — and invite visitors to view the farm and orchard demonstration plots to learn more.
What to worry about? Well, yes, the big bruisers in the pollination game often have stingers, and we don’t like being stung — but that’s for another post. And of course there’s the issue of bee health and bee declines — again, for another post. No, there’s a couple of somethings that over time could take a toll on any number of critters and plants, and we’re just beginning to wrap our arms around them. One: the impact that changing climates could have on pollinators. Not that we understand the dynamics well. The other: lost and fragmented habitats.
If you go back to Emma Mullen’sslides, you’ll see that bumble bees, for one, are unable to track climate change. And they are not alone. You’ll also find references for habitat loss and fragmentation and if you’re so inclined, you can watch the video of her talk.
More than enough info for now, no? Stay tuned — this is a perennial topic.