Why are pollinating bats, birds, bees, butterflies, and other animals important?

Do you enjoy a hot cup of coffee, a juicy peach, an-apple-a-day, almonds, rich and creamy dates, a handful of plump cashews, or vine-ripened tomatoes? Do you enjoy seeing the native flowers and plants that surround you?

If so, you depend on pollinators.

Wherever flowering plants flourish, pollinating bees, birds, butterflies, bats and other animals are hard at work, providing vital but often-unnoticed services. About three-fourths of all native plants in the world require pollination by an animal, most often an insect, and most often a native bee. Pollinators are also responsible for one in every three bites of food you take, and increase our nation’s crop values each year by more than 15 billion dollars.

Loss of pollinators threatens agricultural production, the maintenance of natural plant communities, and the important services provided by those ecosystems, such as carbon cycling, flood and erosion control, and recreation. Without pollinators providing the transportation of pollen from flower to flower, about 75 percent of all native North American plants could gradually become extinct as they lose the ability to reproduce.

Since bees are so small and accommodating, we can all do our own part by eliminating non-native weeds and shrubs and encouraging wildflowers to grow on our properties.  Adding native flowering plants to even the smallest yard can help. The pollen and nectar from only about 5 flowers supports the food needs of a bee from egg to adulthood.

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Does the loss of plant diversity affect the health of native bees?

Loss of plant diversity is the primary cause of native bee decline. About 30-50% of all native bees are highly specialized, so if the plant they rely on disappears, the bees go away. If the bees disappear, the plant is unable to reproduce and dies out. While some of the plants pollinated by native bees are important food crops, other plants...

Do bees feed on both nectar and pollen?

Bees feed on and require both nectar and pollen. The nectar is for energy and the pollen provides protein and other nutrients. Most pollen is used by bees as larvae food, but bees also transfer it from plant-to-plant, providing the pollination services needed by plants and nature as a whole. Learn more: USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring...

How many species of native bees are in the United States?

There are over 20,000 known bee species in the world, and 4,000 of them are native to the United States. They range from the tiny (2 mm) and solitary Perdita minima , known as the world’s smallest bee, to kumquat-sized species of carpenter bees . Our bees come in as many sizes, shapes, and colors as the flowers they pollinate. There is still much...

Do native bees occur on every continent on the planet?

Native bees occur on every continent except Antarctica. Wherever there are insect-pollinated flowering plants—be it in forest, farms, cities, and wildlands—there are bees. And just because you don’t see obvious blooming plants, that does not mean that there are no bees around. Look down! Those tiny flowers that you see on some plants are also...

Are honey bees native to North America?

Honey bees are not native to North America. They were originally imported from Europe in the 17th century. Honey bees now help pollinate many U.S. crops like fruits and nuts. In a single year, one honey bee colony can gather about 40 pounds of pollen and 265 pounds of nectar. Honey bees increase our nation's crop values each year by more than 15...

What is the role of native bees in the United States?

About 75% of North American plant species require an insect—mostly bees—to move their pollen from one plant to another to effect pollination. Unlike the well-known behavior of the non-native honeybees, there is much that we don’t know about native bees. Many native bees are smaller in size than a grain of rice. Of approximately 4,000 native bee...

Why are bats important?

By eating insects, bats save U.S. agriculture billions of dollars per year in pest control. Some studies have estimated that service to be worth over $3.7 billion per year, and possibly as much as $53 billion. This value does not, however, take into account the volume of insects eaten by bats in forest ecosystems and the degree to which that...
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Date published: June 21, 2021

It’s Pollinator Week!

Pollinators in the form of bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles provide vital but often invisible services, from supporting terrestrial wildlife and plant communities, to supporting healthy watersheds.

Date published: July 16, 2020

USGS Scientists are Busy as a Bee

Many bumble bee species have declined in recent decades due to changes in habitat, climate, and pressures from pathogens, pesticides and introduced species. The western bumble bee, once common throughout western North America, is a species of concern and is being considered for listing by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under the Endangered Species Act.

Date published: June 20, 2019

Honey Bee Helpers: It Takes a Village to Conserve a Colony

Do you eat fruits and vegetables? What about nuts? If so, you can thank an insect pollinator, usually a honey bee. These small insects play a major role in pollinating the world’s plants, including those we eat regularly. They also increase our nation’s crop values each year by more than 15 billion dollars.

Date published: June 17, 2019

Test your bee and other pollinator knowledge!

It’s pollinator week and USGS is providing science to better understand the status of pollinator species. Here’s the chance to test your knowledge about bees and other pollinators, with our pollinator week quiz!  And let us know on FB or Twitter how you did!

Attribution: Ecosystems
Date published: June 18, 2018

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Bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles provide vital but often invisible pollination services that support terrestrial wildlife and plant communities, and healthy watersheds.

Attribution: Ecosystems
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Pesticides, Pollinators, and Pestilence: Protecting Public Health and Pollinators

Tick and mosquito control provides important public health protection, but can also affect pollinator populations. The effects are often dependent on specific local conditions, such as how close the pesticide application is to places pollinators frequent, and when they frequent them.  

Date published: September 7, 2016

Busy as Bees to Help Protect Pollinators

 By Elizabeth Jacobsen 

Date published: June 15, 2015

The Buzz on Native Bees

Bees are nearly ubiquitous, occurring on every continent except Antarctica. Wherever there are insect-pollinated flowering plants — forest, farms, cities and wildlands — there are bees. And just because you don’t see plants blooming, does not mean that there are no bees around. 

Date published: May 19, 2015

Pollinators Get a National Strategy to Restore Their Health

Small bees that don’t bother or sting us can remain unstudied despite their abundance. 

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September 26, 2019

PubTalk 09/2019 — Bats in the West

Title: Bats in the West: Discoveries, Questions, and Future Research
By Gabriel A. Reyes, USGS Biologist

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The USGS Ecosystems Mission Area brings you Outstanding in the Field, a series of stories about our science, our adventures, and our efforts to better understand our fish and wildlife and the ecosystems that support them. This episode's buzz is all about pollinators, the birds, bees, bats, beetles, and other animals that feed on pollen from plants and help bring about one

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So many unknowns and so many potentials.

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This part of the country represents critical summer forage habitat for commercial beekeepers and their honey bees. Colonies located here in the summer produce honey and go on

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June 18, 2015

Honey bee laden with pollen

Honey bee laden with pollen.  Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center has developed a genetic sequencing strategy to identify bee-collected pollen. 

Image: Native Bee Pollinates Native Flower
August 31, 2013

Native Bee Pollinates Native Flower

A native bee pollinates a native flower. Credit: Mark Vandever, USGS.

Attribution: Ecosystems
USGS CoreCast
June 24, 2009

Bees Are Not Optional

It's Pollinator Week, and we're talking to USGS scientist Sam Droege about the tremendous importance of native bees and pollinators in general, and how you can lend a hand to these tiny titans.  
Like eating fresh fruits and vegetables? Think agriculture is important to our society? Then you'll want to pay attention to this CoreCast. (original recording: June

Animated image of a bee on a flower
November 30, 2000

Pollinating Bee

This is an animated GIF of a bee pollinating a flower. This video comes from The USGS Northern Prairie Wildlife Research Center, located in the Northern Great Plains state of North Dakota highlights their current and ongoing research on land use and pollinator health. 

A bee with pollen on it
November 30, 2000

A bee with pollen on it

A bee with pollen on it. Photo by Sam Droege, USGS.