Protecting Pollinators

March 1, 2016

Article by: Erin Harlow, Commercial Horticulture Agent, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Duval County

Have you ever thought what the world would be like without bees?  Bees and other pollinators including birds, bats, beetles, butterflies and moths provide pollination of flowers which provide us with fruits and seeds to eat and sustain our food supply.  Every single fruit that is created is because of a pollinator.  Think about how barren the world would be without pollinators and how quickly the food chain would deteriorate without them.

There are 4,000 species of bees in North America and 316 of them are native to Florida.  Most are solitary meaning they live alone in the soil.  The non-native western honey bee (Apis meillifera) is used by beekeepers in Florida and we now have more than 3,000 registered beekeepers in Florida with 400,000 honey bees.  Some of the native bees that you might find pollinating plants in the landscape include mining bees, sweat bees, mason bees, leafcutter bees, feral honey bees, bumble bees and carpenter bees.

The Western Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) forages between two and five miles from its hive.  These bees have many opportunities to be exposed to toxins in the environment, die from predators and be exposed to pesticides.  To help reduce exposure, landscape professionals need to be aware of the preferences of pollinators, especially honey bees.  Bees tend to be most active in day temperatures over 55°F and during the day.

There are four major groups of pollinators including flies, butterflies and moths, beetles and bees and wasps.  Flies have lapping, sponge-like mouthparts that are short and pollinate flatter flowers when they are eating nectar which is the food source of adults.  Moths are important because they pollinate many night-blooming flowers.  Beetles are the largest group of pollinators and also the oldest with prehistoric fossil records showing them as pollinating flowering plants over 150 million years ago.  Flowers that attract beetles tend to be bowl shaped with many stamens and pistils such as magnolias.  Bees are the most important and efficient pollinator because they will gather the pollen from one flower type and continue to visit that species so the pollen is not wasted.  Other pollinators such as wasps, butterflies, moths and beetles randomly visit flowers so they are less efficient pollinators.

Pollinators need food sources including pollen and nectar, shelter, water, access to mates, and safety from predators, parasites, pathogens, and pesticides.  To help reduce the risk of pollinator exposure to pesticides, in 2013, the EPA modified wording on some pesticide labels.  If you choose to use products with the active ingredient that is a neonicitinoid then you need to read the label extra carefully.  There have recently been changes to the labels which affect foliar applications and timings.  Labels of products containing imidacloprid, dinotefuron, thiamethoxam and clothianidin are required to have a bee icon on the front of the label that will be surrounded in a red diamond.  There will also be wording in the new pollinator protection box sections and under directions for use with the wording “Do not apply this product while bees are foraging.  Do not apply this product until flowering is complete and all petals have fallen off.”  This wording is for non-agricultural products, but agricultural labels have new wording as well.  This is for all labels with these active ingredients that have foliar applications including to turf.  If you would still like to use the product then consider applying in the late afternoon when pollinators are less likely to be foraging, consider using a different active ingredient, use a drench application if feasible and it is on the label, or mow or prune the plant prior to the foliar application.  Other countries, such as Europe, have a ban on these products and they can no longer be used at this time.  Applicators in America should be diligent when using these products to reduce exposure to pollinators so that pollinators are protected and these products continue to be allowed in the US.    

Because beekeeping has gained huge popularity, there is extensive research on managed colonies.   However, there is not a lot of research on native pollinators.  To learn more about these pollinators and their habits such as nesting preference, diversity and distribution, the University of Florida’s Honey Bee Research and Extension Lab created “Native Buzz” a citizen science project.  This is a great project to do with school kids or in your communities to help people become more aware of native bees and wasps.

The idea behind the project is to become a buzz-watcher by building your own nest for solitary bees and wasps.  You then monitor the box, collect and identify species and load your data onto the website.  You can also follow other buzz-watchers and read their data.  Blue prints and information about becoming a buzz watcher can be found at the Native Bee website at:

If clients are interested in other ways to promote pollinators in the landscape then they should consider installing a pollinator garden, leaving bare spaces for soil swelling bees to make their homes, planting flowering plants that are native to the region, providing habit and a water source and reducing chemical use in the lawn and landscape. 

Erin Harlow is the Commercial Horticulture Agent with the Duval County University of Florida / IFAS Extension

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