This year, let’s put the emphasis on other insect pollinators.
It’s easy to admire beautiful butterflies sailing effortlessly from flower to flower. We all know how important it is to provide nectar and pollen for native bees. But how many gardeners really, truly appreciate flies? How about other non-bee insects, like moths, wasps and beetles?
These less lovable insects are what some researchers refer to as the “unsung heroes of the pollination world.”
Bees certainly get the most notice for their important work, but they couldn’t do all the pollinating on their own. They need help from other less attractive insects.
In a revealing research study, one Washington State University doctoral student discovered that flies are an important pollinator, too. During her research, Rachel Olsson found that about a third of the insects visiting farm crops were syrphid flies, also known as hover flies.
These flies mimic the behavior of bees, help with pollination and do a bit more. In their juvenile stage, syrphid flies help control aphids, too.
Rachel’s research was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program. She spent several years studying whether non-bee insects contribute to sustainable crop pollination on a network of 24 organic farms in Western Washington.
During her study, she learned pollinators were drawn to one type of crop over another. She had hoped to observe bee and non-bee insects interacting in a way that could improve pollination efficiency.
Still, these overlooked pollinators provide a valuable service and need to be part of conservation efforts, too. That’s why Rachel thinks the results of her research are applicable to Colorado gardeners. It’s important to understand and protect all pollinators, especially the underdogs of the insect world.
An especially useful guide is a booklet Rachel co-authored called, A Citizen Guide to Wild Bees and Floral Visitors in Western Washington. Published by Washington State University Extension, the online guide provides tools for observing and identifying wild bees and other important floral visitors.
By Jodi Torpey
A Denver Master Gardener