When you pour maple syrup on your pancakes, chow down on some chocolate, devour ice cream, or use tasty spices for dinner, are you aware that all of these items exist because of pollen? Just as important as the pollen itself are the amazing members of the animal kingdom who move pollen from one plant to another, allowing the plants to make seeds that then help create some of your favorite products. In fact, we have pollinators to thank for up to 30% of what we eat!
Video: The Vanishing of the Bees
There’s been a sharp decline in honeybee populations in the US and around the world. Watch the critically acclaimed documentary, “The Vanishing of the Bees” for more information. It’s exciting to go outside in the summer and gaze at the butterflies hovering around colorful flowers, hear the buzz of the bees, and catch a glimpse of a hummingbird flitting around some honeysuckle; but lately pollinators have had a tough time keeping their populations up because of habitat loss, climate change, and pesticides that harm the beneficial bugs that provide pest control. Bee-pollinated plants provide us with every third bite of food we eat… it is certainly in our best interest to take care of ALL of our bees, honeybees and native bees alike.
How You Can Help
- Donate to the Zoo’s Conservation Fund to help pollinators and other animals in the wild:
- Learn more about pollinators so you can tell your friends and family why it’s important to keep these special creatures around for the long haul. Learn all you can about our fascinating native bees and spread the word to friends and neighbors – every little bit of habitat helps!
- Write your government officials demanding sustainable farming practices – systemic pesticides are the probable cause of Colony Collapse Disorder (the mass disappearance of worker honeybees from a hive) and have caused a sharp decline in honeybee populations in the US and around the world. You can watch the critically acclaimed documentary, “The Vanishing of the Bees” for more information.
- Buy organic! 95% of our food crops are treated with pesticides – these fruits, vegetables and grains may be a little cheaper than their organic counterparts at the grocery store, but there are hidden costs like health risks to you and your family, and environmental damage that negatively affects all of us. Frequent your local Houston Farmer’s Market for great organic produce!
- Create a bee-friendly garden and provide nesting habitat for native bees. Visit the pollinator.org website where you can type in your zip code and get a free region-specific planting guide to encourage pollinators and have a healthy, pesticide-free garden. You can even download the BeeSmart App for information on-the-go!
What is a Pollinator?
Without pollinators, most plants would not be able to reproduce. A pollinator is an animal that transports pollen from one plant to another – as plants cannot walk, run or fly; this is an extremely valuable service! A wide variety of animals are pollinators, including insects (beetles, flies, butterflies and the most expert of them all – bees!). Birds and bats are also pollinators along with a few lizards, slugs and even a lemur! A hungry lemur can poke his head into a flower to gather nectar and emerge with pollen coating his head, rubbing it off into the next flower he visits. Most pollinators follow the lemur’s tactic and visit multiple flowers, ending up dusting each flower along the way.
Create a Wildlife Friendly Backyard
No matter where you live, or how big or small your backyard is, you can set up areas of it to help out local wildlife.
Step 1: Make a list of the species that currently live in your backyard, including animals and plants, noting the time of day, season, and temperature – what you see will vary depending on these factors!
Step 2: Take pictures of your existing backyard before you make any improvements.
Step 3: Think about the basic things that wildlife needs to survive (food, water, shelter, and poison-free areas). For areas that are lacking in your backyard, figure out what you can add to help wildlife (e.g. planting trees, adding water features, birdhouses, feeders).
Step 4: Pick a day to plant and install all the elements you chose. Take pictures of your newly spruced up area and compare with the “before” pictures.
Step 5: Become familiar with some of the new species that might be coming to your backyard by looking through field guides. Each week, record the animals you see through photos or descriptions as your habitat grows.