What makes pollinators so special?

The animals we have been talking about so far - butterflies, moths, bees, hummingbirds, even some kinds of bats - are all considered pollinators. They move pollen from flower to flower, which helps make the seeds for the plants. These plants' life cycles depend on pollinators. And we depend on many of these plants for our food!

How does an animal pollinate?

As you might have observed, pollinators REALLY like to hang out around flowers. The flowers not only provide a good place to rest and hide, they also produce a sweet liquid called nectar that pollinators love to drink and depend on to survive. When a pollinating animal lands on the flower to drink and nectar, its body gets covered in the powdery pollen that is so important to plant reproduction. Just like a mail carrier who moves mail and packages from place to place, pollinators move pollen from flower to flower. This pollen is the key to plant reproduction. As the pollinator moves from flower to flower in search of more nectar, it spreads around the pollen that is all over its body.

Mexican Long Tongued Bat

Investigate & Ponder

Have you ever touched the inside parts of a flower and gotten a colored powder on your finger? That is pollen that helps make seeds. 

  • Check out the parts in the center of flowers in a vase or blooming outside. What colors do you see? Touch these parts lightly and see if any pollen has moved to your fingers. 
  • If you have a hand lens, take a close look at the pollen-making part of the flower. 

Let's make a mental model of the relationship between pollen and pollinators. Explain this relationship:

  • Pollen is to pollinators AS Sand is to my bare feet or hands.
  • Pollen is to pollinators AS Cheetos are to my fingers. (You might need to test out this relationship with a few Cheetos or other powder-covered chips!) 
But what exacly is pollen and why should we care if it moves between plants?