Guest Author - Catherine Ebey
April showers bring May flowers, but what do may flowers bring? They bring pollinators! Flowers have evolved to attract a wide variety of animals that act as pollinators. These pollinators carry pollen from one plant to another. This fertilizes the plant allowing it to produce seeds. A wide variety of animals may act as pollinators including birds, bees, insects or butterflies.
To attract these pollinators, flowers have evolved to feature bright colors, fragrant smells and nectar. Because plants cannot move to fertilize themselves for reproduction they must get pollinators to come to them. The pollinator sees the attractive flower and lands on it. When a bumblebee drinks nectar from a flower, pollen rubs off of the flower onto the bumblebee. When that bumblebee then flies away to another flower it spreads the pollen from one flower onto the other. This fertilizes the flower and allows it to form seeds or fruit.
However although we may be attracted to the vibrant hues of flowers in the garden, insects often see them differently. The bumblebee sees ultraviolet light. Many flowers including the primrose and the black-eyed Susan appear to have dark red centers to draw the insect to the source of the nectar. Other flowers that look white to us appear darkly colored to insects. These different appearances of flowers attract insects to them and help the flowers reproduce.
In photographs of flowers in UV light, you can see these striking differences. Try searching for some of the example flowers in Google to see how look to the bumble bee. You would be amazed at how differently bees perceive a flower’s color.
All of these characteristics have evolved so that plants can survive without ever moving at all. But this is not a one-sided deal. Pollinators receive food and nourishment from flower via the nectar they feed on. This beneficial partnership in which each participant receives a reward for working together is called a symbiotic relationship. Symbiotic relationships are highly prevalent throughout nature. Lots of animals work together to survive just as you work with your friends and family to stay happy and healthy.
So go take a walk around your neighborhood and literally stop and smell the roses. Be on the lookout for animal pollinators you may spot. Bring your camera and take pictures. Post your results on the biology forum to show everyone the pollinators you witnessed.