What does a Pollinator do? Pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, moths, beetles and other insects, as well as some birds and bats, play a critical role in flowering plant reproduction throughout the world. Most of the time, pollination is accidental. An animal will land on a flower to drink its nectar and when they land, a bit of pollen sticks to their body. Then, each time it lands on the next flower, some of that pollen falls off and into the new flower, causing fertilization. After pollen fertilizes the flower, fruits and seeds begin to grow.
Why are Pollinators so important? Without pollinators, most natural ecosystems would collapse. An astounding 75% of the world’s flowering plants depend on pollinators to produce their fruits and seeds, while 35% of the world’s food crops depend on pollination. That means literally one of every three bites of food you take is thanks to a bee, a moth, or even a fly. Did we say a fly? That’s right! Chocolate comes from the cacao tree, which is entirely pollinated by flies!
Today, despite this crucial role, many pollinator species are declining throughout their range. Threats include habitat loss and fragmentation, invasive species, pesticide use, climate change, and disease. One pollinator, particularly at risk, is the iconic North American monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus), which is one of our most recognizable butterfly species, due to its distinctive orange and black markings. The monarch is considered especially vulnerable, due to fact that its larva (caterpillar) feeds exclusively on milkweed. Milkweed species are rapidly declining, largely due to habitat loss and overuse of herbicides.
How is your Zoo helping Pollinators? The Birmingham Zoo supports the conservation of pollinators and their habitats through our certified Monarch Waystation and through the use of pollinator-friendly plants throughout the Zoo. We have created a habitat for monarchs by planting milkweed and in 2020, we had both monarch caterpillars and adults at our waystation. We also provide additional pollinator-friendly plants for other types of butterflies, as well as bees, hummingbirds, and more. Did you know that the Zoo has a honeybee colony? The colony is located in one of our behind-thescenes areas and
regularly produces honey! During spring and summer, our bees use clover and wildflowers in the areas surrounding their hives for food. In the winter, they use their own honey as a food source and staff occasionally need to feed them supplemental sugar water. Rain or shine, we have a dedicated team of Zoo employees that care for our honeybees all year round.