It’s not an exaggeration to say that the biodiversity of our entire ecosystem depends on pollinators. Animals like birds, bees, bats, butterflies, moths, and other insects feed on plants, and in doing so, help 80% of the world’s plant species reproduce.
Even small outdoor spaces can provide quality habitat and help us fight biodiversity loss. A pollinator garden can range from a decorative planter with native flowers to small flowerbeds or larger vegetable gardens interspersed with flowers.
There are several ways you can learn more and start making a difference in your backyard or neighborhood:
Every spring our world blossoms with life: melodious bird song accompanies the bursts of growth in our plants, flowers, and trees. As our backyards and neighborhoods fill with bright colors and vivid aromas, a special group of animals work behind-the-scenes to ensure the survival of our flora: pollinators.
What are Pollinators?
Pollinators are animals that help plants reproduce by spreading pollen, a powdery material that fertilizes plants. By doing so, pollinators conserve and propagate the plants we have in our backyard and the plants we depend on for food.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, over 75% of the world’s flowering plants and about 35% of all food we eat require pollinators to reproduce! The busy-bodies behind these plants’ survival include birds, bees, bats, and even beetles.
While pollinators have been supporting our lives for years and ensuring our local ecosystems thrive, they need our help now more than ever. Many species of pollinators are experiencing dramatic declines to their populations. For instance, three species of bumblebees in the eastern US have experienced a 90% decline over the last 30 years.
Climate change only heightens and multiplies other environmental threats such as pesticide use, habitat degradation, and the spread of non-native, invasive plants – here’s how:
Climate change gradually increases the overall temperature both around the world and in Massachusetts. To try and accommodate for shifting temperatures, many species have to scramble towards new habitats that meet their environmental needs.
Unfortunately, some pollinators (like bees) are not as good at dealing with a warming world through such adaptations. When animals are stuck in unsuitable environments, many of their critical behaviors are negatively altered. Mating and reproduction are a few pollinator behaviors impacted by warming temperatures and inability to adapt.
Additionally, parasites, diseases, or predators that require generally warmer environments to survive are now moving upwards to Massachusetts as the state’s overall temperatures increases. Studies suggest that gut parasite Nosema ceranae has shown to infect honey bees at higher rates during warmer temperatures, for example.
Climate change disrupts weather patterns across the world. In Massachusetts, that means shorter and milder winters and earlier springs. As climate change affects our seasons, flowers and plants are now blooming earlier.
These plants, and their pollen, are a food source for pollinators and critical to their survival. Earlier springs means the timing of when plants produce pollen and when pollinators are ready to consume pollen might not align. Pollinators can therefore have less access to food or might completely miss out on their food source because of shifting seasons.
How we can help
Now, it’s our turn to protect our pollinators the same way they’ve protected our ecosystems and plants! We can come together and fight climate change by reducing and eliminating greenhouse gas emissions so our pollinators survive, thrive, and continue their hard work.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Our world needs nature heroes, and we can fight climate change together. Sign up for our newsletter, Climate Connection, to learn more about climate information, solutions, and community action.
Plant a pollinator garden.
Planting a pollinator garden not only beautifies your yard and provides food for existing pollinators, it also fights climate change. Plants are carbon sinks: meaning they can soak up carbon dioxide, a common greenhouse gas, like a sponge. A garden, therefore, can be one of nature’s climate-fighting tools. Learn how to plant a native pollinator garden to fight climate change.
Moths are one of the most diverse groups of organisms on the planet with scientists estimating there are at least 150,000 species worldwide, a testament to their adaptability, diversity, and success as a group. Their size, coloring, and shapes vary widely, from large, graceful Luna Moths to the sherbet-colored Rosy Maple Moths to the drab but perfectly camouflaged leaf-lookalike Walnut Sphinx Moth.
National Moth Week is celebrated the last full week of July and everyone is invited to observe, enjoy, and even document some of these amazing creatures. Most (but not all) moths are nocturnal, so attracting them can be as simple as leaving an outdoor light on and waiting for your winged guests to arrive.
What creature so embodies the bright, warm, joyous season of summer quite like the butterfly? Although we typically picture butterflies flitting about in colorful fields of wildflowers—and rightly so!—these fascinating insects live in a broad spectrum of habitats including forests, heathlands, bogs, swamps, even salt marshes—anywhere, in fact, where their caterpillar food plants and sources of nectars for adults are found.
June is National Pollinators Month! Habitat loss, pesticide use, and other factors threaten many of the butterfly species we love and cherish, along with many of our other native pollinators. Learn about creating a pollinator garden and other ways you can help pollinators, including butterflies, on our website.
To honor some of nature’s most colorful and celebrated pollinators, here is a collection of gorgeous butterfly photographs from our annual Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest. The 2019 photo contest is now open, so submit your nature photos today!
Before you mow them down or,
worse, reach for the herbicide, you might want to consider giving the
dandelions in your yard a second chance.
How They Got Here
The ubiquitous dandelions that pop up in our yards this time of year are actually native to Europe and Asia. They were brought here by European colonists who used them for medicine, food, and wine. The English name comes from the French “dent de lion” meaning “teeth of a lion” which refers to the jagged leaves.
A Useful Weed
Many people think of them as a
noxious weed but they are actually quite a useful plant. They flower earlier
than most of our native plants so they offer early pollen and nectar for
honeybees and native pollinators.
They are host plants for the
caterpillars of several moth species including the spectacular Giant Leopard
Moth. Their long tap root helps to break up the soil and move nutrients and
water throughout the soil. And dandelion greens are delicious.
This year, help out our native
pollinators and be kind to Mother Earth by forgoing any herbicides and letting
dandelions do their thing. Dandelions are an important food source for
honeybees and others throughout the spring and most herbicides are poisonous to
these insect pollinators.
Ah…ah…AH…CHOO! Feeling a bit sneezy these days? Well, we’re here to clear the air—goldenrod is not to blame for your seasonal allergy woes. This bright, ubiquitous, late-flowering plant has been framed by the real culprit, ragweed, which blooms around the same time and often nearby. Ragweed’s light, dusty pollen is easily carried on the wind to hay-feverish noses but goldenrod’s pollen is much too heavy, making the latter all the more appealing for pollinators!
There are at least 15 species of butterfly and moth caterpillars that feed on the leaves and stems of goldenrods and the many species of insects that can be found on goldenrods, pollinating the flowers or feeding on their leaves and nectar, are far too numerous to count! Research from Cornell University suggests that Monarch butterflies actually face their greatest food shortage in the fall as they are migrating south, usually along the coast; so while milkweed is the primary food source for Monarch caterpillars, the adult butterflies rely on nectar from wildflowers such as goldenrod to fuel them on their long journey.
So before you go pulling goldenrods out of your yard or garden as a nuisance weed, give them a second chance. You might just be reward by a visit from some hungry butterflies. Here are five beautiful photos of goldenrod from our Picture This: Your Great Outdoors photo contest entries. The 2018 contest is now closed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some gorgeous photography year-round!
June 18–24 is National Pollinator Week and we’re celebrating these wonderful and critical creatures that provide a much needed and under-appreciated service to us and to the natural world. The vast majority of flowering plants on earth need help from pollinators to reproduce; we need pollinators for our food supply and to support healthy ecosystems.
Enjoy these five photos of pollinator butterflies you’re likely to see in Massachusetts and learn what you can do to support pollinators.