Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Pollinators—more than just the bees

Honeybees are the most prolific of all pollinators—owing mostly to their hairy bodies that carry plenty of pollen from flower to flower. But pollinators are not limited to honeybees, or even insects.

While lizards and lemurs are important pollinators in other parts of the world, in the U.S. it is mostly limited to insects, birds, and bats. Of course, pollinators are not in it for our sake. They are after a meal for themselves, their colonies, and their young. But what is good for them, is good for us. While collecting their meals, they carry pollen containing genetic material required for plant reproduction from flower to flower, continuing the life cycle of everything from wildflowers to food crops that end up in the grocery stores and on American dinner tables.

In fact, one of every three bites of food we eat as Americans, we owe to pollinators. Everything from apples to almonds rely almost exclusively on pollinators to survive and thrive.

Pollinators do more than that. They help us to fill our bellies, and our wallets. In 2010, honeybees alone pollinated crops worth more than $19 billion.

The bad news is, honeybee populations are in decline. And what is bad for them, is bad for us. In 1940, there were 6 million honeybee hives. Today there are about 2.5 million.

The good news is, the Forest Service plays an important role in providing habitat for migrating pollinators, by maintaining and planting native wildflowers on national forests and grasslands that they rely on.

June 19 through 23 is Pollinator Week, a week celebrating pollinators and what they do for us. It is a week to learn about and celebrate pollinators. Still, their benefits to us are not limited to a single week, season, or even year. Pollinators benefit us day after day, year after year, generation after generation.

So, next time you stop to smell the flowers, visit the produce section, or enjoy a meal, do not forget to thank a pollinator!

Or better yet, plant a pollinator garden!

Photo: Bee collecting pollen inside a flower
We usually associate bees with the pollination of different plants. Photo courtesy of Lesley Ingram

Photo: Hummingbird hovering over a flower
Birds a also huge contributors to the pollination process. A white-necked Jacobin hovering over a flower. Photo courtesy of Caleb Slemmons, National Ecological Observatory Network

Photo: Bat flying in the middle of the day.
Bats also contribute greatly to the pollinating process. A Rodrigues fruit bat mid-flight. Photo courtesy of Alfred Viola, Northeastern University.