While all pollinators are important and vital to our lives, some are more striking than others such as butterflies and moths Butterflies are busy pollinating by day and the moths cover the night. Not many things in life get 24/7 coverage but pollination does!
The success of over 75% of the worlds flowering plants and over 150 food crops in the U.S. depend on pollinators. That tells us about pollinators in general but what do butterflies and moths provide us?
Many of the sweet fragrances we enjoy in lotions, soaps and perfumes come from plants that are pollinated by butterflies. Gardenia, Lilac, and Yucca to name a few. There are also some edible items associated with these flowers. For example, bee balm makes a nice tea or jelly, marigolds can also be used for tea. Some of these flowers and plants have edible parts such as some marigolds and day lilies. There are some medicinal uses too! Marigolds is believed to have antiseptic properties and several plants like Floss Flower and Marigold are mosquito repellents.
If you would like to attract butterflies and moths to your pollinator garden, plant some of the host plants that they like. Vines like pipevine and passion flower are host plants for Pipevine Swallowtails and Gulf Fritillary butterflies. Herbs like dill, parsley and fennel will attract Black Swallowtail butterflies. Even trees are host plants such as White Birch, Walnut, Hickory and Sweetgum are host plants for the amazing and beautiful Luna Moth.
What else can you do to attract them? Plant a variety of colors and shapes of flowers and provide a shallow water source. You can alsolso use natural, pollinator safe pesticides.
Another thing you can do to help promote pollinators is to become a Houston Zoo Pollinator Pal in the Swap Shop. Bring in photos or reports about your pollinator gardens and what pollinators you see there. You will be able to earn points to trade for cool items in the shop.
Don’t know about the Swap Shop? Click here for more information.
There are so many pollinators in the world and each one of them is important.
My favorite pollinator? Bats!
Bats are known for their excellent pest control and seed dispersal, but many people don’t know they are also pollinators. Over 500 species of plants rely on bats for pollination. The Lesser Long Nosed Bat and the Mexican Long Tongued Bat are found in the southwestern U.S. all the way to Central America and are just a couple of the bat species working hard to provide us with some of the things we love.
Bats pollinate many of the fruits and nuts we eat such as avocado, cashew, coconut, mango, banana and guava. They also pollinate the cocoa plant that is used to make chocolate! Who doesn’t love an animal that helps bring us chocolate?
One of the more interesting plants they pollinate is the amazing Saguaro cactus found in the western part of the country. These cacti are the largest in the United States! They can live 150 to 200 years and reach heights of 40 to 60 feet. They are found exclusively in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona and Western Sonora, Mexico.
There is another interesting plant bats pollinate that provides a product many people are fond of. The Agave plant! This is the plant that is used to make tequila. If you have ever enjoyed a tasty margarita, you will certainly want to thank a bat! The agave is a desert succulent – not a cactus. It is found in hot, dry climates and requires very little water to survive. Not only is it a nectar source for bats, it is a food source for other pollinators as well.
How can you support our VIPs (Very Important Pollinators)? Become a Houston Zoo Pollinator Pal! Bring pictures, reports, or drawings of pollinators or your pollinator garden to the Swap Shop. You will be registered as a Pollinator Pal and earn points to spend in the shop!
Don’t know about the Swap Shop? Click here for more information.
Native Milkweed is a great choice to attract Monarch butterflies to your pollinator garden.
Find examples of Pollination Stations, like this one, located throughout the John P. McGovern Children's Zoo
Pollinators - source USDA Forest Service
Hummingbirds are great pollinators!
This bee is busy pollinating!
Did you know bats can be pollinators?
Lizards, geckos and skinks can be pollinators.
One of the world's more unusual pollinators is the Black and White Ruffed Lemur.
What is a Pollinator Pal? Possibly the coolest conservation title ever!
Most of us know the importance of pollinators. Without them, our grocery store shelves and our pantries would be pretty empty. By some reports, we would lose half of the food in our grocery stores, as well as things like coffee, chocolate and tequila without our pollinators! Even the clothes we wear would be different. Cotton that is used to make a lot of clothing relies on….you guessed it…..pollinators.
So, the question is, how can we help them?
First, you can plant a pollinator garden at home. A pollinator garden can be as small as one Milkweed plant in a pot or as large as a full-blown flower bed. There are a huge number of plants that attract or feed pollinators in every stage of their lives. Check with your local nursery to find out what native pollinator plants would be best for your area.
Another big help? Use natural products in your garden that won’t harm the bees, butterflies and other pollinators that visit it. Pesticides can have a huge effect on them.
Build your own Pollinator Palace or Pollination Station to provide living space for pollinators. They are a fun way to create a decorative, natural space in your yard.
Now, back to Pollinator Pal. You can earn that amazing title for helping pollinators in your own back yard. Bring pictures, reports or drawings of your pollinator garden to The Naturally Wild Swap Shop at the Houston Zoo. You will not only be registered as one of the Houston Zoo’s Pollinator Pals, but you will earn points to spend in the shop as well.
Another way to participate is by posting observations of pollinators seen on zoo grounds on iNaturalist. There is a project titled “Native Wildlife at the Houston Zoo” in iNaturalist. If you post a pollinator picture to the project and show the Naturalists in the Swap Shop, you can be registered and earn points!
Don’t know about The Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.
Now get out there and look for those pollinators! Before you know it, you will be a Pollinator Pal too!
The Houston Zoo is working toward creating the next generation of saving wildlife heroes. One way we are achieving that goal is by forming lasting partnerships with school groups in and around the Houston area. These partnerships all look a bit different from one another, but they all have one thing in common: they are inspiring students, teachers and communities to take action to save wildlife! Ridgecrest Elementary is an example of one school that is partnering with the Houston Zoo to save pollinators through our Pollinator Partnerships.
The partnership between Ridgecrest Elementary and the Houston Zoo started when Ms. Lindsey Duke came to one of our Educator Events. “It all started when I attend my first Educator’s Night Out at the Houston Zoo. I was so intrigued at what I experienced there and I knew that I wanted my students to experience the same” stated Ms. Duke. During the event, she learned more about the importance of pollinators, the threats they are facing, and how her students can help. She decided to reach out to DeAndra Ramsey from the Houston Zoo and start the process of forming a partnership centered around helping pollinators.
“Teaching kindergarten at a new campus I was a little nervous at how the initial pitch of the partnership and garden project would go but it was received with full support from administration and staff. We selected a spot on our campus that had once been a garden but had a lot of potential to be transformed into a pollinator garden”, says Ms. Duke. In addition to picking the place for the garden and choosing the native plants that will be planted, the students have been learning about how a healthy pollinator population is vital to a healthy ecosystem. Ambassador animals that are native to this area of Texas have been brought to the campus so that the students can see first-hand the animals they are helping with their work in the garden.
But it doesn’t stop in the classroom! “My goal was to make this not only a school wide project but also a community/family project. So we had our first Ridgecrest Elementary Garden Day. We invited families and community members out to our campus one Saturday and together we weeded and prepared our garden area. I was blown away but the participation this event received. To see so many families working together was amazing”, says Ms. Duke. The Houston Zoo was able to attend the family gardening day and work side-by-side with the students and their families to transform this space into a wonderful pollinator habitat. Starting a pollinator garden has multiple benefits, including connecting children to nature. Preparing the space allowed families to get up close and person with a variety of Texas native wildlife such as frogs, snakes, and lizards.
As anyone who has started a garden knows, it does not happen overnight. “[We] have continued to work step by step slowly but surely transforming the garden into a space not only for pollinators to come and feast but also a learning spot for all ages. The students along with their families have designed garden stones which we will use to trim the garden areas. We painted reading stumps so that classes can go out and observe, write and learn in the garden. Currently we are holding a coin drive to purchase pollinator plants for the garden and plan to have another Garden Day this spring”, Ms. Duke reported in January.
Through the partnership between Ridgecrest Elementary and the Houston Zoo, the students are making connections with the natural world around them. They are taking action to save wildlife in their very own back yards and becoming wildlife heroes. “None of this would be possible without our Partnership with DeAndra and the Houston Zoo. Our students have had so many opportunities already in the first year of this partnership. They have had ambassador animals come to the school and they have begun to learn about conservation of resources and species. To hear them randomly throughout the day talking about things connected to our project is so encouraging”, says Ms. Duke.
Ridgecrest Elementary has been a shining example of a school that is taking action to save wildlife. Ms Duke’s passion and dedication has inspired the students through out the school to work together to save pollinators and empowered them all to make a difference in their communities.
This butterfly tent has been set up in the Swap Shop to shelter cold-stunned butterflies found on zoo grounds!
Butterflies won't fly if it is below 55 degrees, and if the temperature falls below 40, they lose their ability to crawl.
Zoo staff and volunteers are helping to save monarch butterflies here at home through Monarch Watch's tagging program.
The zoo led a trip to Mexico last year in order to witness the monarch butterfly migration first-hand
Monarch butterflies are perhaps one of the most well known butterfly species thanks to the legendary monarch butterfly migration that takes place each year. These tiny insects can travel up to 3,000 miles annually in search of a warm and cozy place to call home for the winter. Their destination? Mexico! Here in Texas we are lucky enough to be in the middle of one of the monarch migration pathways, so each summer and fall we witness these beautiful butterflies all around town. But what happens when our flying friends get caught in an unexpected cold spell?
Generally, butterflies won’t fly if it is below 55 degrees, and if the temperature falls below 40, they lose their ability to crawl. There have been documented occasions where a rare snowfall has taken place in their winter roosting areas in Mexico, but most are able to survive this because they are sheltered by forest cover. Those that do not receive this shelter can survive in the snow for a while due to the natural insulation snow provides, but extremely low temperatures can be life threatening, especially if the butterflies are wet and ice crystals form on their wings. That being said, when the latest cold front hit Houston, everyone on Zoo grounds was on high alert looking for monarchs in need of help. Staff in the Children’s Zoo set up a butterfly tent in the Swap Shop as a refuge, and sure enough, reports of cold-stunned butterflies started coming in. So far, butterflies have been brought to the Swap Shop for shelter and warmth by members of the Horticulture and Children’s Zoo staff, as well as Zoo guests. When the butterflies were first brought to our team of caretakers, they weren’t moving, and one was even thought to be dead. Fortunately, after a little bit of time in the warmth, they began to warm up their bodies by shivering and fluttering their wings. The team will continue to care for these butterflies until warmer weather returns and it is safe for them to be released back into the wild.
For the past two years, Houston Zoo staff and volunteers have been taking part in field work here on Zoo grounds by tagging monarch butterflies. If you have visited recently, you may have seen small groups walking through the Zoo with nets, in search of butterflies. Tagging is an extremely useful tool, as it can provide information about how and where the animal travels. Because all the migrating monarchs are concentrated in just a few locations during the winter, they are especially vulnerable to harsh weather and to human activities that disrupt or destroy their habitat. This can reduce the number of monarchs that leave the overwintering sites in the spring, and a reduction in milkweed and nectar sources can cause a decline in the number of monarchs that make it to Mexico for the winter. By tagging the monarchs and tracking their movements, protection plans can be set up in key areas that will help to ensure their survival. 93 monarch butterflies have been tagged on zoo grounds since 2016 as part of a project run by Monarch Watch.
While we all do our best to stay warm this winter, don’t forget to keep an eye out for monarchs that may need your help! Each time you visit the zoo, a portion of your admission ticket goes towards saving wildlife, which makes it possible for us to help local species like the monarch butterfly! If you are on Zoo grounds and see a cold-stunned butterfly, notify a staff member and they will help you get it safely to the Swap Shop. You can help pollinators like the monarch butterfly in your own backyard by planting native plants. Not sure what to plant? On your next visit to the Houston Zoo stop by the Conservation Stage, located to the right as soon as you enter. The Conservation Stage is lined with native plants and signs letting you know what each plant is! Simply take a picture of the sign and bring it with you when you go to the nursery to buy your plants! For more information on how to raise and protect monarchs and other butterflies, click here.
Ever see some interesting wildlife at the zoo? That sounds like a funny question but, I’m not talking about the Zoo’s animal collection. What native wildlife have you seen as you go through the zoo? Birds, butterflies, bees and other visiting animals just passing through? What about interesting plants growing on Zoo grounds?
There is now an iNaturalist project called Native Wildlife at the Houston Zoo. Photographs were first uploaded by our Collegiate Conservation Program to start the guide to native wildlife as you enjoy the zoo.
The Collegiate Conservation Program at the Houston Zoo is a 10 week intern program generously sponsored by ExxonMobil. The program focuses on two important aspects of conservation – saving animals in the wild and sharing the conservation message. The program participants must be currently enrolled undergrad students and commit to 30-35 hours weekly for the 10 weeks of the program. The interns work with various regional conservation partners around the city learning from the experts about what they do to help save wildlife. They also spend time on zoo grounds handling animals and sharing our Take Action messages with guests. Want to learn more about our Collegiate Conservation Program? Click here.
Now that the interns have added photos to the project, you can now not only learn from the observations already in there, you can add your own observations too!
iNaturalist is a wonderful program to engage people with nature. You can build your own life list or even a project for your area. Not sure what something is? Not to worry! iNaturalist allows other members to comment on your post to help with the ID. The iNaturalist program will choose the taxon with at least 2/3 agreement to automatically ID the post. It is easy to navigate – your Dashboard is like your Facebook feed. You can follow other members and see what they post. You can access iNaturalist online or in a handy app you can download to your phone. You can see what other things have been posted in the area by looking at observations or places, and can even search by taxon if you are looking for something specific. The Help section of the program has an awesome FAQ guide and Getting Started guide to help you learn the ins and outs of iNaturalist too. You will find the Native Wildlife at the Houston Zoo by going to projects in the app or on line and searching on that project title.
Another added bonus to using the Native Wildlife at the Houston Zoo project is it can earn you points in the Naturally Wild Swap Shop! If you add a photo to the project, stop by the Swap Shop and show the Naturalist what you have added. You will earn points for your posts! Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here to learn more.
Many of you know that the Houston Zoo staff works on many conservation projects in the field. Our staff travels to Africa, Panama, Galapagos Islands and more to help save animals in the wild. Recently, two of our staff members, Rodney Honerkamp and I, went on a different kind of conservation trip. A monarch conservation visit right in our area!
We were privileged to go to the home of Houston Zoo Asante Society members, Ron and Demi Rand in Pearland. Demi raises and rescues monarch butterflies and has all stages of their life cycle from egg to adult. A lot of her time is spent tending to the many plants in her gardens that feed the butterflies and bees that visit her yard. Her gardens have two types of milkweed, among other pollinator host plants, and have attracted at least six different types of butterflies, multiple species of bees and even moths at night.
Why is the work Demi does for monarchs so important? Butterflies, along with bees,
bats and other animals, are pollinators. A huge percentage of all the food we eat, the cotton used to make our clothes, even coffee and chocolate rely on pollinators. Without pollinators we would lose all those things and more. This year alone Demi has tagged and released over 1,000 butterflies. The tags are
a small sticker placed on the wing and the information on the sticker is sent to Monarch Watch.
Recently, Houston Zoo staff and volunteers took part in field work on grounds tagging monarchs. They tagged 23 monarchs this season! That means there are 23 more monarchs that can be tracked on their 3,000 mile migration to Mexico.
Monarch Watch is a non-profit, education, conservation and research program based at the University of Kansas. They have information on tagging monarchs along with biology and rearing. They provide information about gardening for monarchs and conduct research projects on things like larval monitoring and monarch flight vectors.
There are several other resources you can use to learn more. In addition to Monarch Watch, check out TVbutterfly.org to learn about a monarch way station that one of Demi’s “Monarch Sisters”, Dr. Amy Harkins has built at the Tuscany Village Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation in Pearland, TX. Monarch Gateway monarchgateway.org and the International Butterfly Breeders Association butterflybreeders.org are also great sites.
Facebook has some groups dedicated to monarchs also like the group The Beautiful Monarch.
The day we went to visit Demi and Ron, we were able to watch as 11 Monarchs were tagged and released. This was the reward after weeks of hard work for Demi. She collects eggs she finds on her milkweed and rinses them in a 5% bleach solution to combat the OE parasite (Ophryocystis elektroscirrha) that has been attacking monarchs. This parasite does the most damage in the pupal stage.
The affected butterflies can have difficulty emerging or fall to the ground before they fully expand their wings. It takes 4-5 days for the eggs to hatch and then she needs to be sure the caterpillars have plenty of milkweed to eat. The caterpillars will eat voraciously for 2 to 3 weeks then they will pupate into their chrysalis. Demi monitors the chrysalis closely over the 7 to 10 days it takes for the butterfly to emerge. Once they emerge they live in a protected enclosure until they are dry and their wings are fully stretched out. At that point she is able to tag them and release them. If any emerge with issues that prevent them from flying, she has a special enclosure for those butterflies so they will have nectar readily available.
How can you help? Plant your own pollinator garden! You can even work towards having it registered with Monarch Watch as a monarch way station. It will be a place for the migrating monarchs to stop and refuel on their journey south. If you don’t know what to plant, just stop by our conservation stage at the zoo. It is to your right as you come in. You will find signage about native plants to attract butterflies. Simply take a picture of the sign and take it with you to the nursery where you buy your plants.
You can also get involved at the Houston Zoo. Take a picture of your pollinator garden at home and bring the pictures to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. You will be registered as a Pollinator Pal and receive points to spend in the shop. Also, be on the lookout for pollinators on zoo grounds. If you get a picture of a pollinator on grounds you can also bring that to the Swap Shop for points and be registered as a
Pollinator Pal. Show the Naturalist in the shop the picture and tell them which of the zoo’s gardens you saw it in. Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.
Have you ever been out in nature and found something you thought was amazing? Ever wish you had a way to get your kids more engaged with nature? The Houston Zoo has a way to help!
Nature journals are a great way to explore and learn about nature. Kids (and adults too!) can write about, sketch, or paint things seen in nature. It is a great way to document what you have seen and you can even go back later to research if you want to learn more about a particular item.
There is a wonderful website and blog at scratchmadejournal.com with a lot of great information on nature journaling. The author even has some printable pages to get you started! Click here to check out her awesome blog and get some amazing ideas about nature journals. She includes examples, recommendations on supplies, and a list of places to find more help and examples. Included on her blog are posts geared towards nature journaling specifically for kids. You don’t have to be a award winning artist or write like a novelist – just record what you see and add sketches as you see fit. And the more you journal, the better they get!
Do you know the best benefit to nature journals? Kids 18 and younger can bring their nature journals to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop to earn points! The points can be used in the shop to get some amazing things like bones, shells, minerals or even a re-usable bag that kids can take home and enjoy. Need more information on the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here to learn more.
The first ever Texas Pollinator BioBlitz will be taking place from October 7th to October 16th. This is a statewide effort to observe and identify as many pollinators, and pollinator habitats as possible and the Houston Zoo will be participating!
How can you participate at the zoo?
First, take pictures of any pollinators you see and the plants you see them on around the zoo. Some of the pollinators you might see are butterflies, honey bees, and bumblebees. Then, take those pictures to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop and you will be registered as a Pollinator Pal and will receive 50 points to spend in the shop. Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information.
Second, you can share your photos or videos of the pollinators on Instagam or iNaturalist. On Instagram, posts should include #SaveThePollinators.
Why are pollinators so important to us? They make our daily lives better in so many ways! Without pollinators we would lose much of the fruit and vegtables we eat every day. We would also lose chocolate,
coffee, tequila even cotton. Our meat would be effected too because we would lose the plants that the cattle and other animals eat.
Come out to explorer your Houston Zoo and help us save pollinators.
Check out the new amazing Pollination Station in the Children’s Zoo! What is a Pollination Station? Just think of it as an insect hotel.
You will notice that many different materials were used in our Pollination Station’s making. This allows many different insects to use the different shape openings to lay their eggs.
30% of all North American bees use some kind of tunnel in which to lay their eggs. Providing a food source and houses for these bees is very important in the efforts to help our pollinators.
A huge percentage of our food crops rely on pollinators. Without our pollinators, we could lose nuts, spices, many fruits and vegetables, cotton, alfalfa and even chocolate. 75% of flowering plants and over
30% of our food crops rely on pollinators.
What kinds of insects will be making this palace their home? Wasps, dragonflies, bees, moths, and spiders.
The next time you are in the Children’s Zoo, check out the Pollination Station next to the Naturally Wild Swap Shop. And, if you have planted pollinator plants in your own gardens, bring a report or pictures to the Swap Shop for points and you can be registered as a Pollinator Pal.
Don’t know about the Naturally Wild Swap Shop? Click here for more information on how it works.
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