Happy Pollinator Week! This week, we celebrate all those animals who provide some amazing ecosystem services by acting as pollinators! When you think of a pollinator, what do you picture in your head? A beautiful butterfly? A buzzing bee? Maybe a busy beetle? That is what most people think of, but there are some lesser known and more unique pollinators we would like to introduce you to this week.
Usually when you think of flies, you think of rotting food or trash. But some flies do visit flowers. Flies tend to be attracted to rotten smells to lay their eggs. Some flowers, such as jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), pawpaw (Asimina triloba), and the skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) give off a putrid smell, like rotting meat, dung, or even blood to attract flies. Fly-pollinated flowers also tend to be either pale and dull to dark brown or purple, often resembling meat. Typically, fly-pollinated flowers do not produce nectar.
Bats are incredibly important pollinators, particularly in Central America and the American Southwest. There are certain plants, such as agave, that rely on bats for pollination. Over 300 species of fruit depend on bats for pollination, including mangoes, bananas and guava. Bats don’t just feed on nectar; they’ll also feed on fruit (making them seed dispersers) and insects that may be feeding on the plants. While we do not have any species of bats in Virginia that act as pollinators, our bats still play an important role as pest-control by eating thousands of insects a night!
While bats are the most commonly known mammal pollinator, there are others. The black and white ruffed lemur (Varecia variegata) of Madagascar is the main pollinator of the traveler’s tree (Ravenala madagascariensis) as they have the unique ability among pollinators to open the tree’s flowers to access the nectar with their long tongues. The honey possum of Australia, as well as sugar gliders and bush babies are also mammal pollinators.
Even lizards, geckos and skinks get in on the pollinating action! The Noronha skink (Euprepis atlanticus) of Brazil seeks out nectar of the mulungu tree (Erythrina veluntina). Skinks and geckos in New Zealand have also been reported feeding on nectar and acting as pollinators.