The Pollinators: 7 Important Insects and Animals for our Food Supply

Contrary to popular belief, food does not come exclusively from boxes, cans or bottles. Somewhere in its life before you inhaled it, there was a field, water and dirt. Food—even the stuff barely able to lay claim to the term—is part of nature. Whether sprouted from a seed or a fertilized egg, there are quite a few steps along the way. And quite a few helpers, too. Just exactly which animals and insects are involved in growing your food? The answers may surprise you.

1. Bees: The most obvious food helper—bees are massive pollinators helping to produce about 1/3 of our food supply. Without them, you’d never have another apple or almond or thousands of other foods crucial in the human diet.

2. Butterflies: They may not do as much work as bees, but these beautiful winged creatures do play a role in our food supply. And they’re being threatened just like bees. Install salt or mineral licks in your yard to encourage butterflies.

3. Moths: Often considered secondary to the butterfly for their less glorious wings, moth species outnumber butterflies. And while they can be a nuisance insect destroying certain crops, they are pollinators, too. Think of them as working the nightshift for the busy bees and butterflies.

4. Birds: To name them all would be a feat in and of itself—so forgive this unjust category lump!—but praise the birds for their hard work in pollinating. Not all do pollinating work, but the ones you see in your garden: Hummingbirds, spiderhunters, sunbirds, honeycreepers and honeyeaters, are among the most common pollinator bird species.

5. Bats: The bat is to the bird what the moth is to the butterfly. While we may shriek at the site of them as the sun sets, they’re actually working the nightshift along with the moth, pollinating a number of plants, particularly in the tropical and desert regions. Thank them the next time you eat a banana.

6. Worms: While they’re not pollinators, the worm is particularly important in organic crop production by keeping the soil mineralized and aerated. Digging up a clump of soil and seeing a worm or two is a good sign that you’ll have healthy crops.

7. Lady Bugs: They bring good luck for a reason. Lady bugs are actually beetles and while they may seem like dainty little creatures, they actually eat some not so helpful insects that can eat your crops. So do many other beetle varieties. And while they’re also not pollinators, they play critical roles in keeping plants healthy. You can encourage them by creating a “lady bug house” in your yard.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger


Image: Dr. PhotoMoto