9 Things You Didn’t Know about Pollinators

  1. Bats, beetles, butterflies, hummingbirds, and moths are all pollinators. In fact, there are over 200,000 different species of pollinators, and 1,000 of those are small vertebrates. Bees aren’t the only pollen movers out there!
  2. The world’s bee population has increased over the last 10 years. Despite what you may have heard, the worldwide domesticated bee population has increased by almost 45% over the last 50 years. In the U.S., the population is up 13% since 2008, and the number of honey-producing colonies has been mostly steady over the last two decades. Asian and African countries are also seeing a boom in honeybee populations. Beepocalypse? Maybe not.
  3. Iowa’s top crops don’t rely on pollinators. Corn and soybeans don’t need help from insects with reproduction. Corn is pollinated by wind, which blows pollen from the tassels down onto the ear silks to fertilize them. Soybeans are self-pollinating, meaning that stamens and pistils of the flower come in contact to spread pollen. There is some evidence that bees actually can improve soybean yields, but researchers aren’t sure how or why.
  4. Honeybees eat pollen to get protein and nectar to get
    A bee's pollen baskets

    A bee’s pollen baskets

    carbohydrates. Bees are out on the hunt for both nectar and pollen, and the flower is a one-stop shop. Bees drink the nectar, and move the pollen back to the hive to store in food cells for later. That’s why they’re equipped with pollen baskets on their back legs.

  5. Honey is kind of like bee vomit. Forager bees collect nectar in their honey stomach. Then, when the forager bee’s stomach is full, she flies back to the nest, regurgitates the nectar and passes it on to a house bee, who swallows it. The house bee’s honey stomach adds enzymes to the nectar, and it slowly turns into honey. The house bee then puts the honey into a comb cell and fans it with her wings to dry up any extra water. Because the honey is in a separate “honey stomach,” it isn’t technically vomit. Technically.
  6. One species of bat has the longest mammal tongue in the world. At 8.5 centimeters long, the tongue of the rare Anoura fistulata (found primarily in Ecuador) is the longest of any mammal in the world, and is used for collecting nectar. Its tongue is too long to keep in its mouth, so it stores it in its chest.
  7. Honeybees dance! When a bee has found food, it will return to the hive and let other bees know where the food is. If the nectar or pollen is close by, the bee will do a round dance. If it is far away, the bee will do a waggle dance to describe how far away the food is, and in what direction.
  8. Monarch butterflies are colored to warn predators that they are foul tasting and poisonous. monarch butterfly photoThis is due to monarch caterpillars voraciously eating milkweed. A caterpillar can eat an entire milkweed leaf in less than 5 minutes, and the toxins in the milkweed are stored in the body of the insect to help ward of predators.
  9. The Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation is teaching more about pollinators at the Iowa State Fair! Join us on Sunday, August 23rd for STEM Day at the fair! We will be there all day to walk kids through a hands-on, very fun pollinator activity – and you have the chance to walk away with a pollinator seed packet! There’s no better way to end another great Iowa State Fair!


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