Posted by: Lisa Mason, Arapahoe County Extension
Let’s celebrate pollinators! June is Colorado Pollinator month and June 21-27th is National Pollinator Week!
Pollinators provide so many benefits to humans and ecosystems that they deserve more recognition than just one month out of the year! Education and awareness is critical because pollinators are declining all over the world for a variety of reasons including habitat loss, pesticides, parasites, diseases, climate change, etc.
Pollinators around the world include bees, bats, flies, beetles, wasps, ants, butterflies, moths, and some species of reptiles and small mammals. Bees are among the most efficient pollinators because the pollen sticks to the hairs on a bee.
Why should we care about pollinators?
Pollinators provide valuable ecosystems services. They transfer pollen grains from one flower to another which enables the plants to reproduce. Here is a closer look at the value pollinators have to humans and ecosystems:
- 75% of more than 240,000 plant species rely on pollinators for reproduction.
- The global production of crops that depend on pollinators is an industry worth up to US $577 billion annually.
- Bees help to pollinate 1/3rd of the human diet including the most nutritious part of our diet—fruits, vegetables and nuts.
- In addition to crops, they pollinate the food for livestock that contributes to the meat and dairy industry.
In addition to providing nutritious food, pollinators offer a variety of other ecosystem services that are less known. Think of all the benefits that plants provide us. We can thank pollinators for facilitating plant reproduction for many of those plants. Examples of ecosystem services include:
- Raw material production
- Climate regulation
- Erosion control
- Nutrient cycling
- Clean air
- Cultural value
- Medicinal plants
- Plant-based dyes
- And more!
The Buzz with Bees
All bees should be celebrated! Our planet has an incredible amount of bee diversity! We have approximately 20,000 species of bees worldwide. We have over 900 species in Colorado! Most of us are familiar with the honey bee (Apis mellifera), a non-native bee species to the United States. The honey bee was brought over from Europe in the 1600’s and is a domesticated species. While they are not at risk of going extinct, they do face a variety of challenges like varroa mites. Honey bees are an important species economically and for pollinating food crops. They also provide us with honey, wax, and other products. Native bees provide an incredible amount of biodiversity and many native bees have specialist relationships with the plants they pollinate meaning other bees are unable to pollinate those specific plants. A couple of examples include squash bees that are very efficient at pollinating pumpkins and squash, and bumble bees that “buzz pollinate” plants. Buzz pollination occurs when a bee has a strong vibration frequency that allows the plant to release the pollen. Plants that need buzz pollination include tomatoes and peppers.
How are you going to celebrate Colorado Pollinator Month?
Here are some ideas:
- Observe pollinators in your backyard, parks, or open spaces. Look for visiting insects and birds that might be pollinating blooming flowers. Notice the diversity of flower visitors, and how hard they work at collecting pollen and nectar. If you take photos, you can upload them to iNaturalist, a biodiversity science database of observations. You can also explore iNaturalist to see what others are observing.
- Plant flowers and provide pollinator habitat in your landscape. No landscape is too small or too big. Planting some pollinator-friendly flowers or providing some habitat space will benefit the pollinators that visit. How can you provide habitat space? Keep in mind that approximately 90% of bees are solitary which means they mostly do not interact with other bees with the exception of mating. Of the solitary bees, about 70% live underground and the other 30% are cavity nesters. Here are some resources:
- Join the Native Bee Watch Community Science program! All training free and provided. You can watch bees in your landscape and collect data on your observations. Register here by June 13th. Learn more about the program at NativeBeeWatch.org. Check out the CSU Source Story on Native Bee Watch.
- Attend a virtual class during National Pollinator Week! Register here to take a one-hour class on June 25th at 12pm on who the pollinators are and how to support them.
- Spread the word! Check out the resources for National Pollinator Week and share with your friends, families, and neighbors. Share your photos on social media and use the hashtags: #ColoradoPollinators #PollinateCO #NativeBeeWatch #CSUExtension