What is Pollination (And How Does It Work)?

Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male part of a flower to the female part of a flower, enabling the plant to reproduce and produce seeds. Pollination is an essential part of the life cycle of many plants worldwide. There are three main types of pollination:

  1. Self-Pollination: Pollen from the male part of a flower fertilizes the female part of the same flower.
  2. Wind Pollination: Wind carries pollen from one flower to another.
  3. Animal Pollination: Animals carry pollen from one flower to another.

Animal pollination is the most common type of pollination. Pollinators play an incredibly important role – and they are a beautiful reminder of the natural world’s interconnectedness and fragility.

two butterflies sit atop pink flowers

What kind of animals are pollinators?

Many different animals are pollinators, including bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, birds, and even some mammals – like bats, lemurs, and possums. Each type of pollinator has a unique way of pollinating. Using the small hairs on their tiny bodies, bees collect pollen when they go to a flower for nectar. As they travel from flower to flower, they spread pollen onto other flowers and keep the cycle going. Similarly, pollen sticks to birds’ beaks and feathers as they feed on nectar and fruits, spreading pollen throughout the day while they graze.

What makes pollinators so important?

Pollinators are essential to the food chain because they help plants reproduce. Without pollinators, many plants would be unable to produce seeds, which would devastate the food chain. Pollinators are responsible for the reproduction of over 75% of the world’s flowering plants, including many food crops. And pollinators don’t stop there; their full impact on our ecosystem may surprise you.

Benefits of pollinators

Pollinators provide many benefits to humans and the environment. Some of the benefits of pollinators include:

  • Food Production: Without pollinators, many of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that we eat would not be able to grow.
  • Improved Air Quality: Plants produce oxygen through photosynthesis, which is a process that uses sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen and glucose. More pollination means more oxygen. More oxygen means better air for us to breathe.
  • Cleaner Water: The plants that pollinators help fertilize clean water by absorbing pollutants and filtering sediments. Plants help increase water clarity and reduce water pollution levels through sediment erosion.
  • Improved Soil Health: Plants add nutrients to the soil, improving fertility and porosity. Pollinators support this with their role in plant fertilization.

The Future of Pollinators

Pollinators face many threats, including habitat loss, changes in climate, and pesticides. These threats put pollinators, such as honey bees, at risk of extinction. If pollinators become extinct, it would have a devastating impact on our food chain and the environment. Protecting pollinators and acting before it is too late is essential so they can continue playing their vital role in our ecosystem. Anyone can contribute by planting native plants, avoiding pesticides, and not destroying bees’ nesting places.

What Types of Bees Live in Utah

Curious about what our local pollinators are? While there are more than 1,000 native species of bees in Utah, here are some of the most common ones you’ll likely find around the beehive state:

  • The Italian Honey Bee: Originally observed all over the continental part of Italy, the Italian Honey Bee has become one of the most commercially distributed breeds – and they are the most common type of bee in Utah. Look for their small, fuzzy thoraxes and large eyes.
  • Leafcutter Bees: Leafcutter Bees are solitary bees found in Utah. They are essential pollinators of legumes, such as alfalfa, clovers, and lupines. Leafcutter Bees get their name by cutting circular pieces from leaves to line their nests. The leaf cuttings do not harm the plant but leave small, circular holes – affecting the plant’s overall appearance.
  • Wool Carder Bees: These common Utah bees get their name from female Wood Carder Bees’ tendency to collect wolly plant hairs while building their nests. Wool Carder Bees do not make large colonies like honey bees, and males can be territorial with one another.

Want to Meet Pollinators Up Close?

You can meet over a thousand live butterflies and dozens of unique insects from around the world right here at Thanksgiving Point’s Butterfly Biosphere. They all play an essential role in our ecosystem. Meet our friendly entomologists and hold or touch a live insect during our daily Critter Encounters. You can even help a butterfly take its first flight in the conservatory with the Butterfly’s First Flight, making you an active part of the conservatory’s ecosystem.

Learn More About The Butterfly Biosphere and Other Educational Attractions at Thanksgiving Point.