Butterflies pollinating native Joe Pye weed.

Did you know that there are estimated to be approximately 200,000 species of pollinators?? Bees and butterflies might be the first that come to mind, but many other animals act as pollinators as well, including bats, birds, beetles, flies, and ants! Pollination is crucial to healthy life on this planet. And it’s all around us. So join us in celebrating National Pollinator Week by learning more about why exactly this phenomenon is so important and how we can all be part of the magic!

What exactly is pollination?
All life on our planet reproduces or replicates itself in some way- including plants! One of the ways plants create offspring is through the creation of seeds. Think of all the fruits and veggies you eat that have seeds inside! Or perhaps you’ve even helped a new plant grow by planting seeds yourself. But plants often need help to create those seeds, and this is where our pollinators come to play. In order to create a seed, pollen grains of one plant need to travel to the flower of another plant. Many animals such as bees, butterflies, birds, and bats act as pollinators by visiting lots of different flowers and carrying pollen around with them! In this way, many species of plants rely on pollinators to reproduce. In fact, about 70% of all plant species on earth depend on pollinators for reproduction. This means that without pollinators, those plants would likely not exist.

How does pollination affect me?
Humans rely on plants for many, many uses. Not only do plants make up a significant part of our diet, we use them for clothing, furniture, paper products, and more! It is estimated that 1/3 of the food humans eat relies on pollinators. In the US, pollination produces an estimated $20 million worth of crops. Without pollinators, our world would be less colorful and our plates less tasty. Here are some of the foods we eat that need pollination: Apples, bananas, strawberries, blueberries, grapes, almonds, avocados, coffee and tea, tomatoes, carrots, broccoli, chocolate, squash- even milk and cheese as many of the plants cows eat depend on pollinators!

Honeybee collecting pollen from a flower.

How are pollinators doing?
Worldwide, pollinator numbers are declining due to factors that include habitat loss, pesticide use, climate change, and disease. One in four wild bee species in the US is currently at risk of extinction. The iconic monarch butterfly has declined by over 90% in just the past 20 years. One of the reasons for this decline is the lack of milkweed, the only plant host monarch caterpillars survive on.

What can I do to help?
There are many ways you can help pollinators! A great way to start is to plant native wildflowers, such as milkweed, in your garden. Plant to have wildflowers blooming throughout the entire growing season so you can help the various life stages and species of pollinators. You don’t need much space to help out either! A few plants along a sidewalk or garage can provide valuable resources to many pollinators! If you have one, you may also consider converting your turf lawn to a pollinator-friendly lawn by mowing less frequently and allowing “weedy”plants like clover to flower. Pesticides harm and even kill many insects and other pollinator species. You can help by reducing or eliminating pesticide use on lawns and gardens. We can also help our pollinator friends who hunker down with us and brave a Minnesota winter! Leave dead and standing plant debris in the fall, instead of clearing it from your garden, so that overwintering insects can utilize it for habitat.

It’s important for scientists and researchers around the globe to know how pollinators are doing so we can help out where needed most. But they can’t do this work alone! You can join a citizen science project and contribute your own data! Check out the following projects for more information:

What is the Minnesota Zoo doing to help?
The Minnesota Zoo is committed to the conservation of wildlife and their habitats. The Zoo’s Prairie Butterfly Conservation Project works with other partnering agencies to ensure a future for the state’s most imperiled butterfly species. Through pioneering research and reintroduction efforts, the Minnesota Zoo is fighting to save Dakota skipper and Poweshiek skipperling populations, two butterfly species once common throughout the state but are now at risk of extinction.

In addition, the Minnesota Zoo educates people throughout the state on at-risk pollinators, such as the Monarch butterfly and rusty patched bumble bee, and how to take action to help.

You can learn more about this work and what you can do to help by visiting our Prairie Butterfly Conservation Project page!

With your help, we can all take action to support pollinators!

Your support will help ensure that projects like this will continue to work towards a future where wildlife thrives in Minnesota and beyond. Please donate today through the Minnesota Zoo Foundation. Thank you!