For the past several years, the decline in monarch and honey bee populations has spurred great interest in these two insect pollinators. It is important to continue to focus on their needs; however, a host of other fascinating pollinators are also working in the yard and garden. As summer winds down, there's still time to observe many of them.
This spring, the University of Illinois Extension Logan, Menard, Sangamon Unit offered an opportunity to learn how to identify native bees and other pollinators and to make and record observations as part of a Citizen Scientist program. It was an eye opener for participants! The object was to note bees versus non-bees, then to further refine identifications. In addition to the honey bee, the bee categories that participants learned about included the bumble bee, chap leg bee, striped hairy-belly bee, cuckoo bee and about six other types. A picture of the colorful green metallic bee can be seen in the accompanying pictures. The non-bee category includes butterflies, moths, beetles, true bugs, birds, flies, wasps, and spiders, some of which are also pictured.
Sizes of insect pollinators vary from just a few millimeters to hummingbird size. It can be surprisingly difficult to tell tiny bees, wasps and flies apart, much less to further identify them within their species. Wings, eyes and antennae are helpful indicators. Bees are hairy and frequently carry pollen. Once you start looking, it becomes apparent that pollinators are everywhere and have definite preferences among flowers.
In general, the best time to look for pollinators is between 9 am and 4 pm on a hot, sunny day. New blooms with fresh nectar are usually more popular than fading flowers. Individual pollinators are attracted to different flowers, generally more to native plants than hybrids. Blooming herbs are often covered with several types of tiny insects on the same days that scores of beetles visit larger blooms like hydrangeas.
Being aware of visiting pollinators adds interest to any garden. It just takes a closer look to get started.
Contributing author and photographs, Barbara Rogers, University of Illinois Extension Logan-Menard-Sangamon master gardener volunteer