About Pollinators

Learn about some of the incredible pollinator species native to Canada.

What is pollination and why does it matter?

Pollination is the movement of pollen from the male parts of flowers (the anther) to the female parts of flowers (the pistil), allowing for fertilization and seed and fruit production.

Pollination can occur in a few ways. Some flowering plants can self-pollinate, meaning that pollen from the same flower or pollen from the same plant can result in fertilization and seed production. Some plants don’t need any help moving their pollen, but most plants are reliant on wind or animals to move pollen. Many wind-pollinated plants produce massive quantities of pollen grains that get distributed in a non-targeted way to nearby flowers. The vast majority of flowering plants, however, rely on animal pollinators to move pollen between flowers.

Animal pollination is one of the great mutualisms of the natural world. In other words, both the animals that do the pollination and the flowering plants that receive it, benefit. Many animals, including bees, rely on flowering plants for much of the food they eat. Pollen is an important source of protein, while nectar provides carbohydrates. As these animals move from flower to flower, taking the pollen and nectar that they need to survive and provide for their offspring, pollen often sticks to their bodies. When the animals incidentally move this pollen to a new flower of the same type, animal pollination has occurred.

It is difficult to overstate the ecological and economic importance of animal pollinators. Scientists estimate that over 87% of flowering plants are animal-pollinated – meaning that the vast majority of flowering plants on earth rely on animal pollinators to reproduce. Scientists also have determined that approximately 75% of the major crops that we grow for human consumption depend on, or benefit from, animal pollinators, accounting for 35% of food production by volume. Animal-pollinated crops include blueberries, watermelon, apples, almonds, avocados, coffee, cacao, and many others that make our diets diverse, healthy, and enjoyable.

The next time you see a pollinator moving from flower to flower, take a moment to reflect on the importance of that small action. While it may seem insignificant, pollinators are supporting life as we know it, one flower visit at a time. 

Who are the pollinators?

When asked to think about pollinators, most people think first of the European honey bee (Apis mellifera). This is no coincidence. Humans have managed honey bees for honey, beeswax, and other hive products since the Neolithic period, at least 8,500 years ago, and the European honey bee is the single greatest contributor to crop pollination today.

While the European honey bee is undoubtedly important, people are often surprised to learn that it is only one member of the diverse community of pollinating animals on earth. It is only one of over 20,000 bee species found across the world, over 800 of which occur in Canada. People are also often surprised to learn that the vast majority of the world’s bees live a solitary life, nesting underground or in small cavities rather than in a bustling social hive like honey bees. Perhaps what most surprises people is that bees are only a single group among many important pollinator groups, including butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, wasps, birds, bats, and others.

Overall, there are an estimated 350,000 species of pollinating animals in the world, many of which co-evolved over time with plant species that now depend on them for reproduction. So when we talk about conserving pollinators, it is important that we do so with this incredible species diversity in mind.

Declines in native pollinator populations

Many people are hearing about, and concerned with, European honey bee declines. This is in large part due to widespread press about mysterious increases in honey bee colony death that was first recognized in 2006. Since then, honey bees have faced a host of pressures and health problems, making them hard to keep healthy and resulting in high colony loss. However, there is no overall loss or decline in the number of honey bee colonies as of yet (hard working beekeepers split colonies and import small colonies to make up for loss). Honey bees are an agricultural organism in North America, managed by humans for crop pollination, honey, and other hive products. While they are essential to modern agriculture, they are not of conservation concern because they are neither wild, endangered, or native to North America.

Critically, however, many wild, native pollinator populations that we and our ecosystems depend on are in decline. Several bumble bee species, for example, have declined across North America. Monarch butterfly populations – which scientists have carefully tracked for many years – are believed to have declined over 80% since the 1990s. Declines have also been documented in several species of other native bees, butterflies, and other important pollinator groups.

A number of factors likely are causing these declines and these factors can work independently or in concert, negatively impacting pollinator populations.

Habitat loss is considered to be one of the leading causes of pollinator declines. Habitat is food and shelter for pollinators, and therefore crucial to their lives. Humans have eliminated habitat at a large scale through agricultural intensification, urban development, resource extraction, and other activities. Other factors contributing to pollinator declines include climate change, pesticide exposure, invasive species, and parasites and pathogens.

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Did you know there are thousands of pollinators in Canada?
This includes butterflies, moths, beetles, flies, hummingbirds and over 800 native bees!
Learn About Pollinators

Videos & Webinars

A single honeybee's life, through her own eyes

A Plea for Bees' Needs

The Role of Honey Bees in Natural Areas - A Conversation

Insect Apocalypse? What Is Really Happening, Why It Matters and How Natural Area Managers Can Help

The Effects of Fungicides on Bumble Bee Colonies

Learn About Pollinators

Podcasts

Learn About Pollinators

Articles & Docs

Pollinator Partnership Learning Center (pollinator.org) View Article
Pollinator Conservation Program (xerces.org) View Article
Bees are Champion Pollinators (fed.us) View Article
How Do Honey Bees Smell, Feel and Taste? View Article
How Do Butterflies Hear, Smell & Feel Objects? View Article
Bee Pollen - An Overview (beeculture.com) View Article
1-2-3’s of Raising Native Bees (crownbees.com) View Article
4 Steps to Bring Back Pollinators (xerces.org) View Article
Anthropocene Crisis: Climate Change, Pollinators, and Food Security (mdpi.com) View Article
Rusty-Patched Bumble Bee (fws.gov) View Article
Polyester Bees View Article
Sphinx Moths (desertusa.com) View Article
Beekeeping and General Information on Pesticides and Agriculture (scientificbeekeeping.com) View Article
Beekeeping Workshops (apisarborea.com) View Article
Study Monarchs: Citizen Science Opportunities (monarchjointventure.org) View Article
Pollinator Identification
The Bees in your Backyard (beesinyourbackyard.com) View Article
Bee Identification Guides (pollinator.org) View Article
Bumble Bee Field Guides (beespotter.org) View Article
Native Bee Identification (osu.edu) View Article
Bumble Bee Watch (bumblebeewatch.org) Submit a sighting
Yukon Bumble Bee Fact Sheet Download PDF
Native Bees, Solitary Bee and Wild Bees, what are they? Download PDF
Climate Change and Bumble Bees (pollinator.org) Download PDF
Native Pollinators and Agriculture in Canada (publications.gc.ca) Download PDF
A Landowner’s Guide to Conserving Native Pollinators in Ontario (feedthebees.org) Download PDF
Bees of Toronto (toronto.ca) Download PDF
Pollinator Management Guide: Let it BEE (City of Brandon, MB) Download PDF
A Review on Bees (umass.edu) Download PDF
Common Bee Pollinators of Oregon Crops (oregon.gov) Download PDF
Rearing Monarchs: Why or Why Not? (monarchjointventure.org) Download PDF
Learn About Pollinators

Reading List

Befriending Bumble Bees: A Practical Guide to Raising Local Bumble Bees by Elaine Evans, Ian Burns, Marla Spivak (befriendingbumblebees.com) View Book
Pollinators and Native Plants by Heather Holm (pollinatorsnativeplants.com) View Book
Bee Identification & Forage Guide by Heather Holm (pollinatorsnativeplants.com) View Book

This list was put together by volunteers and we are not responsible for the accuracy of the information provided.  If you find inaccuracies, please send an email to hello@beecitycanada.org.