Bees, Butterflies & More

Pollinators in Peril National Pollinator

Week, June 21-27


by Linda Wiggen Kraft


Pollinators, those creatures that carry pollen from flower to flower ensuring that plants produce fruits, vegetables, and seeds need our help for their survival, just as humankind needs their help to live on earth. Bees, flies, wasps, butterflies, moths, beetles, birds and bats are all pollinators. It is estimated that there are between 100,000 to 200,000 pollinator species worldwide. Often we think of non-native honeybees as the only pollinators. There are seven species of honeybees, while there are over 4,000 native North American bee species.  Honeybees do the large part of pollinating monoculture crops.  As honeybees have declined in numbers, native bees have helped out.  Yet native pollinator populations have also drastically declined due to habitat loss and pesticides.

For eons pollinators and plants evolved together in a complex ecosystem where specific plant chemicals and flower shapes nurtured and attracted certain insects but not others.  Most insects evolved to only feed on specific plants. For example monarch butterflies will only lay eggs on asclepias (milkweed) plants because the caterpillars can only survive on chemical compounds found in asclepias.  If asclepias plants are not available, there will be no monarch butterflies anywhere on earth. For other butterflies and insects it is a similar fate. And since over 95% of birds eat mainly insects for food, the effect will spiral up the food chain. Our landscapes need native plants that are host food plants for the insects that live here.

What can be done? In your own gardens increase pollinator populations by increasing the garden size. Get rid of most of the lawn and plant clover there.  Plant mainly native trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals to help restore food and habitat loss for natives.  Native oaks support over 500 species of butterflies and moths, non-native trees support hardly any. Flowers are what pollinators need, so plant lots and lots of different kinds of plants that bloom from late winter to late fall.  Plant the same flowers in large clumps. Don’t plant flowers with lots of petals that make it hard to get nectar. Provide water.  Don’t use pesticides and toxic chemicals.

For native bees provide bee homes with drilled holes in a wooden block.  Leave bare ground for bees that tunnel in ground. And if you would like honeybees in your yard, find out more at the Eastern Missouri Beekeepers Association website: www.easternmobeekeepers.com. Then enjoy all the wildlife you are helping, as that wildlife helps increase the bounty and beauty of your gardens.

Special thanks to Mervin Wallace @ www.missouriwildflowers.net, Jane Sueme @ www.isabees.com, and Professor Dave Tylk.


Pollinator Dinner – St. Louis Zoo

June 22 (Tues 6–9 pm). Sit down to a special dinner in The Living World to sample the many foods pollinators help provide. Sip mead and honey wine, enjoy  honey tasting, and peruse booths with information and activities related to pollinators. After a buffet dinner, hear a presentation on pollinators and learn what you can do to help. Reservations are $29.95 for adults and $20 for children 12-and-under. Parking provided on North Lot. Call (314) 646-4857 for reservations.