Canada’s list of insect pollinators includes ants, bumble bees, honey bees, solitary bees, butterflies, flies, moths, and wasps.
Did you know that some beetles are also pollinators?
Of the world’s almost 350,000 flowering plants, beetles are thought to be responsible for pollinating close to 90 percent of them. Fossil evidence suggests beetles were among the earliest prehistoric pollinators and first pollinated ancient flowers called cycads. This period, about 150 million years ago, is 50 million years earlier than bees. Modern-day beetles seem to prefer pollinating close descendants of those ancient flowers, which are primarily magnolias, spicebush and water lilies.
Pollination by beetles is known as Cantharophily and plants that are dependent on beetles for pollination are called cantharophilous plants. Beetles are the largest insect order (Coleoptera); there are thousands of species in Canada. Smooth bodied beetles are not effective pollinators - those with hairy bodies will carry pollen between flowers.
Beetles are seen on many flowers, however the majority of beetles are not there to partake in a sip of nectar as there are not many plants pollinated primarily by beetles, and the flowers that do depend on them are often fragrant or give off a fermented, spicy, or decaying scent. Beetles also prefer to visit bowl shaped flowers that are white or green, have a strong fruit-like smell and loads of pollen to access.
Beetles in general are clumsy, rough and are more likely to visit large, heavily constructed flowers that are either flat or bowl-shaped to give them an easy place to land. Relatively large beetles often damage flowers, or the pollinating parts of flowers, especially when they feed on pollen with their large cutting mouth parts. Many of these flowers resist the damage either by producing many more flowers than necessary, or by enclosing their reproductive organs deep within their corollas. But beetles are great for natural pest control!
Did you know that one beetle larva alone can consume more than 50 caterpillars?
Both adult and larval ground beetles consume pests. Each beetle can eat more than its own body weight in prey insects every night! Beetles in your garden help to keep a natural balance; the benefits are numerous. For instance, the nocturnal ground beetle (there are more than 800 species of ground beetles in Canada) usually live in the soil or under logs, rocks, piles of wood and leaves and is a voracious predator.
Beetles are invaluable resources to have in the garden; many are nocturnal and great for keeping night time pests under control. Beetles drastically reduce populations of problem insects because they bury down into the mulch and soil, and help reduce the impact that slugs, snails, cutworms, cabbage maggots, mites, caterpillars, earwigs, vine borers, aphids, and other insects have on your garden.
Lady bugs (lady beetles or lady birds), are also pollinators. Pollination is not the primary focus as lady bugs visit flowers to feed on small pests such as sap sucking aphids, but pollination is a result. When pollen attaches to ladybugs they transfer pollen from one flower to another and fertilize them to produce seeds.
Ladybugs have two eyes but do not see very well, and can only see the difference between dark and light as in a black and white photo. Ladybugs do not see colour.
Ladybugs grow only ½ inch long and easily enter all of the tightly constructed flowers, such as tubular flowers, in order to gain access to nutritious nectar. Ladybugs are also natural enemies of many garden insect pests including aphids. Choosing plants with many leaves help the ladybug hide and prey on pests.
Did you know that a single ladybug can consume as many as 5,000 aphids in their 1 year lifetime?
Ladybugs live for only about one year and must reproduce quickly. In that year their appetite for aphids for plant damaging insects is insatiable. Ladybugs are used as a natural pest control as one ladybug can consume up to 5,000 aphids in its lifetime in both its larval and adult stage. To increase ladybug larvae success, ladybugs lay their eggs on a leaf or blade of grass that already has an active aphid colony on it. The emerging larvae will feast on the aphids; this is critical as the larvae cannot fly to flowers for nectar.
Ladybugs require a varied diet as consuming only aphids does not give them the ability to reproduce. Ladybugs eat pollen which is a protein source, and nectar is a carbohydrate energy source. Common garden plants, such as fennel, provide nectar-rich flowers to keep the ladybug population fed and helps them to produce and lay eggs.
Ladybug eggs laid in your garden will provide a future ladybug population to protect your flower and vegetable gardens. If you are trying to attract ladybugs to your garden, plant as many flowering plant species as possible. Ladybugs also flock to flowering herbs such as dill, cilantro and fennel.
Plants such as several members of the Aster (Asteraceae) family, which includes over 20,000 species, attracts ladybugs. Another fast growing ladybug favourite is the Mexican sunflower (Tithonia rotundifolia) which has orange or red petals and yellow center atop thick stems. Zinnias wide range of brightly-colored round blooms, also are a ladybugs favourite. Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is another ladybug magnet; these flowering plants have flat clusters of white, pink, yellow or red flowers that grow up to 4 feet tall. They also make great cut flowers! Basket of gold (Alyssum saxatile) plants have dense clusters of yellow flowers with gray-green leaves. They grow to about 1 feet tall.
Ladybugs feed on the pollen and nectar of plants but do no harm; they begin to eat pests such as aphids and other soft-bodied pests in the larval stage and are an excellent natural pest control in your garden.
There are numerous insects that are helpful pollinators, and there are many advantages to having these, including beetles, ladybugs and other insects in your garden as they act as a natural pest control solution. At the same time you are also helping them to thrive and survive!