Butterflies have long been admired for their beauty and grace, but often fail to receive the appreciation they so earnestly deserve for their role in plant pollination. Pollinators, such as bees, bats, hummingbirds, and butterflies, are responsible for one out of every three bites of food you eat! Unfortunately, many pollinator populations are at risk. Decades of stressors, including loss of habitats, improper use of pesticides and herbicides, disease, predation, and even rising temperatures due to climate change, have all hurt pollinator populations.
An estimated 87.5% of all flowering plants on the earth need help with pollination—they need pollinators. Pollinators provide pollination to over 180,000 different plant species and more than 1,200 crops. Without pollination, most crops would simply fail to bear fruit and eventually become extinct—as would the animals that rely on them for sustenance.
Pollinators are vital economically, adding $217 billion dollars to the global economy. In the United States, honeybees alone are responsible for between $1.2 and $5.4 billion dollars in agricultural productivity. Pollinators support healthy ecosystems that clean the air, stabilize soils, protect from severe weather, and support other wildlife.
Tragically, a host of environmental imbalances are decimating many Florida pollinator populations. For example, Florida monarch butterfly populations have dropped an alarming 80% since 2005!
The monarch butterfly has recently been added to the endangered species list by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service placed the imperiled butterfly on the waiting list for the Endangered Species Act protections and will propose listing it in 2024.
Researchers believe that shrinking populations of native milkweed (the monarch’s host plant), due in part to a boost in the use of the herbicide glyphosate (lethal to milkweed), is responsible for its population decline. Less milkweed means less habitat, and less habitat means less monarch butterflies, an essential food source for birds and mice. These chain effects inevitably undermine the entire ecosystem.
Bees are facing the danger of a phenomenon called colony collapse disorder (CCD). A paper from Oregon State University explains CCD: “CCD most likely stems from a combination of problems associated with agricultural beekeeping, including pathogens, nutritional deficiencies and lack of a varied diet, exposure to neonicotinoid insecticides and other pesticides, lack of genetic diversity, habitat loss, and transportation stress. Pesticides, stress, and lack of diversity can actually exacerbate the vulnerability of bees to pathogens.”
Four species of hummingbirds in North America are at risk because of the rising temperatures due to climate change: Allen’s Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, Calliope Hummingbird, and Rufous Hummingbird.
The increasing warmer temperatures are forcing these four species to abandon their native areas for cooler and more stable environments. Intense heat is incredibly dangerous for hummingbirds as it forces them to find shade to cool off rather than feed on nectar, which can result in starvation since their high metabolism demands that they constantly need to eat.
Bats are another species of a pollinator affected by rising temperatures. The warmer weather impacts their hibernation cycles and their prey availability, which directly affect how successfully a mother bat can give birth and raise her young. According to a National Geographic article, climate change is also impacting their ultrasonic hearing:
“Bats living in temperate zones were more likely to lose prey detection volume, while in tropic zones, many bat species will actually be able to detect more prey. Bats calling at lower pitches generally gained prey detection space” because humidity and temperature directly impact how effectively bats can detect their prey.
MEETING THE NEED
Protecting pollinators requires both conservation and education. That’s why Flamingo Gardens is partnering with the Smithsonian to bring their traveling exhibit, “Pollination Investigation,” to the Gardens to help educate visitors about pollinators. That’s also why we have established the bee sanctuary so that honeybees may be safely relocated rather than destroyed, and opening the new Butterfly Conservatory so that we may rear native butterflies to help re-establish local populations.
Educating individuals about pollinator life cycles, migration patterns, and ecological roles cultivates an appreciation for these animals and encourages people of all walks of life to invest in and protect native butterfly and pollinator habitats, promoting their survival and ensuring their crucial role in the ecosystem continues.
HOW YOU CAN HELP POLLINATORS
- Plant a variety of pollinator friendly flowers and plants that are native to your climate.
- Stop or limit the use of pesticides on your property – pesticides are toxic to pollinators.
- Create a habitat that is friendly to bees. This means either placing beehives on your property, leaving dead logs around that bees can nest in, and simply ensuring bees have plenty of bee-friendly plants to feed from in your yard.
- Provide nectar for hummingbirds on your property. You can do this by buying a feeder for hummingbirds and filling it with sugar water.
- Place a bat house on your property. This will provide bats a safe place to sleep during the day.
- Plant milkweed plants. Monarch butterflies lay their eggs on the leaves and feed on the nectar of the flowers.