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: July 16, 2020

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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 22, 2020

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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

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

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

Attribution: Ecosystems
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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

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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. 

Pollinators

Pollinators

Pollinators.