Beetles — Discover Pollinators


There are more different kinds of beetles on the planet than any other group of creatures. Beetles have been around for a very long time, hundreds of millions of years, in fact. Some beetles developed relationships with plants as specialised pollinators even before bees had appeared on the scene! Beetles are important pollinators in some habitats where bees are scarce, including some very arid areas.

Flowers that are pollinated by beetles tend to be larger and produce a musty or fruity scent to attract the beetles. A number of palm tree species, including the Oil Palm, are pollinated by specialised beetles.

In East Africa one ancient group of plants, the cycads, are pollinated by beetles, including weevils, that complete their lifecycle within the reproductive cones produced by the plants. As there are separate male and female cycads, the pollinators are essential for the survival of some of these magnificent, rare plants in the wild.

Beetles of many different kinds including chafers, longhorns and leaf beetles, visit flowers in large numbers. However, they mostly feed on the flowers, causing some damage, and don’t serve as efficient pollinators

Bats, Beetles, Butterflies… And Other Pollinators That Aren’t Bees (and How to Attract Them)

From bats and beetles to lemurs and people, the job of pollination goes far beyond our beloved bees.

But there are a host of other critters performing this service for the world’s food crops all the time. One study found that non-bee insects account for 38 percent of pollination services in 17 major crops. Some non-bee pollinators are barely visible, such as tiny midge flies, while others are likely to give you a fright, like bats. Here’s a rundown of some of our lesser-recognized but still highly valuable pollinator buddies.

Pollinator: Bats

A lesser long-nosed bat (yes, that is the species’ full and real name) pollinates a cross-section of a saguaro cactus flower. Photo: Merlin D. Tuttle, Bat Conservation International / USDA Flickr

Bats pollinate more than 500 species of plants worldwide, including many tropical fruits: mango, banana, durian, guava, cashew, and others. They also pollinate agave plants in Mexico, the source of an alternative sweetener (agave nectar) and booze (tequila). Not surprisingly, they are experts at pollinating night-blooming species, and favor large bell-shaped flowers, especially white ones with a sweet fruity odor. Bats are not major pollinators in the temperate regions of the U.S., though they do help pollinate peaches and almonds, as well as a number of cacti in the Southwest.

To attract bats, install a bat house under your eaves or in a nearby grove of trees. You can also plant some of their favorite flowers: evening primrose, nicotiana, heliotrope, four o’clocks, moonflower, night-blooming jessamine, and honeysuckle.

Pollinator: Beetles

A small beetle helping to pollinate an Aster flower. Photo: Garret Nuzzo-Jones / Flickr

Beetles aren’t the most cute and cuddly creatures in the insect kingdom, but they play a major role in pollination. In fact, beetles were pollinating plants millions of years before bees even evolved. While they are not a primary pollinator for most food plants today besides a few obscure crops like macadamia nuts and pawpaws, beetles assist in the pollination of a large number of crops. There are hundreds of types of beetles, big and small, so almost any type of flower is fair game.

You don’t need to do much to attract beetles, as most live in the duff that naturally accumulates on top of the soil or on decaying bits of wood. So as long as you don’t maintain a scorched earth policy in your yard, or spray insecticides, beetles should roam aplenty.

Pollinator: Butterflies

Meadow Brown butterfly on Lavender at the Cambridge Botanical Gardens in the U.K. Photo: Bob Hall / Flickr

Butterflies are arguably the most charismatic of pollinators, and like bees, their populations are increasingly threatened. While bees are more likely to pollinate fruit crops, butterflies are primary pollinators for many vegetables and herbs, especially those in the carrot family (dill, fennel, celery, cilantro, parsnip), sunflower family (artichokes, lettuce, chicory, chamomile), legume family (peas, beans), mint family (lavender, basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano), and brassica family (cabbage, kale, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts). While pollination isn’t needed to produce the edible parts of these crops, as it is for fruiting plants, it is a prerequisite for seed production, on which next year’s planting depends.

Butterflies like large flower clusters that form a landing pad. To attract them, plant species such as yarrow, milkweed, coneflower, butterfly bush, alyssum, and calendula. They also like patches of wet earth from which to glean moisture and minerals.

Pollinator: Birds

A sugarbird feeding on a flower. Photo: Mike Cilliers / Flickr

Hummingbirds are well known nectar-hounds, pollinating flowers as they dip their slender beaks for a drink. But in other reaches of the globe, many other birds provide this ecological service: sun birds and spider hunters (Africa and Asia); honeyeaters and lorikeets (Australia); flowerpeckers (Asia and Australia); honeycreepers (Central and South America); and sugarbirds (Africa). The planet’s 2,000 or so bird pollinators mainly visit wildflowers, though in the tropics they help to pollinate food crops such as bananas, papaya, and nutmeg.

See also:  Sierra Nevada forests, Ecoregions, WWF

You don’t need one of the those plastic feeders filled with sugary water to attract hummingbirds. Simply plant species with red or orange tubular flowers, such as salvias, honeysuckle, red-hot poker, and cardinal flower.

Pollinator: Flies, Wasps, Moths, and Other Insects

A fly pollinating a flower. Photo: Ninfaj / Flickr

Bees get all the credit, but spend time in any flower patch and you’ll quickly notice a plethora of other flying insects busily scavenging amid the petals. Flies generally favor wildflowers in moist, shady places, though certain species of hoverflies are major pollinators of orchards across North America. Moths compete with bats at night for large fragrant flowers, including the tropical crops like cashew and papaya. Wasps (mainly small, stingless ones) help pollinate a variety of crops, though none are more dependent than figs, which are exclusively pollinated by a specialized type of fig wasp. Midges, tiny gnats the size of a pinhead, are the exclusive pollinators of Theobroma cacao , the tree that produces chocolate. Even mosquitoes and ants are known to visit flowers, passing grains of pollen from one to the other along the way.

As with beetles, attracting these additional insects to your garden is mainly about what you don’t do – namely, spraying insecticides.

Pollinator: Animals

This is a black and white ruffled lemur. Photo: [martin] / Flickr

Here’s another specialized animal pollinator that you might not have considered, one that is responsible for pollinating many food crops: humans. “Hand pollination” is used when crops are grown outside of the native range of their pollinators, in greenhouses, or where native pollinators simply aren’t efficient enough for commercial production. Crops that are often hand-pollinated include date palms, vanilla vines, cherimoya trees, kiwis, greenhouse tomatoes, and certain pear varieties. Tools of the trade include pollination brushes for individual plants (a watercolor brush also does the trick), and a variety of battery-powered wands , electric pollination guns , gas-powered sprayers , and manual pollen poofers for larger plantings.

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Amazing UK pollinators you might not have thought of

Bees are probably the best-known pollinator in the UK. They play a vital role in our natural world, or ecosystem, by transferring pollen from one flower to another.

However, they’re not the only pollinator on the block. There are actually around 1,500 pollinator species in the UK (according to DEFRA), all doing their bit in the lifecycles of the plants that rely on them.


Fossil records suggest that beetles were the first pollinators on earth. In fact, it is believed they have been pollinating plants since before the time of the dinosaurs!

Not all beetles are pollinators though, only the ones who feed on pollen and nectar, and they’re best suited to picking up sticky pollen grains which attach to their hard outer bodies.

There are around 4,000 beetle species that are native to the UK, of which approximately a quarter are pollinators. The most common of these include the oil beetle, long horn beetle and the total unit that is the thick-legged flower beetle (pictured).


Unlike bees, these glamourous insects don’t carry pollen all over their bodies. Instead, the pollen clings to their legs as they search for nectar during the day.

Butterflies mostly land on wide-open flowers as well as favourites such as common honeysuckle and heather. UK butterflies include well-known species like the Peacock and Red Admiral, as well as rarer species like the strangely-named Dingy Skipper, Silver Studded Blue (pictured) and the stunning Purple Emperor.

Butterflies are capable of covering larger areas than bees and, unlike bees, they can see the colour red. This means they can easily spot crimson, scarlet and ruby flowers – some scientists have suggested that red might even be butterflies’ favourite colour!


Once the sun has set, the majority of moths visit night-blooming plants that are white or pale in colour, as these are easier to see in the dark. These flowers also tend to smell incredible, luring moths to them in much the same way that humans might be tempted by freshly-baked bread.

Although they don’t tend to be as popular as their flamboyant cousins the butterflies, the UK is home to plenty of interesting species of moth, such as the Elephant Hawk Moth (pictured), the Scalloped Oak and the Cinnabar (pictured at top).


They might ruin picnics, but our various species of wasps are far more than just angry annoyances. Some of them, like Rudd’s ruby-tailed wasp, reject the traditional yellow and black danger-markings for a face that looks like it’s been dipped in colour-change nail polish (as well as a shiny red bottom!).

There are seven types of social wasps in the UK, which live in groups. They range in size from the common wasp (which nests in small spaces in buildings or underground) to the large (and admittedly pretty freakin’ scary) hornet.

Just like bees, there are also solitary varieties of wasp, but unlike bees their stings have no barbs, so can be used multiple times with zero consequences to the wasp. They don’t tend to attack unless provoked, though, so next time a wasp is buzzing round remember the good they do in pollinating plants.


  • Beetles make up the largest group of pollinating animals because there are so many of them! They are responsible for pollinating 88% of the 240,000 flowering plants around the world!
  • They were some of the first insects to visit flowers and they remain essential pollinators today.
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  • Some beetles will eat their way through petals and other floral parts and can often become garden and agricultural pests. They even defecate within flowers, earning them the nickname “mess and soil” pollinators.
  • Research has shown that beetles are capable of seeing color, but they mainly rely on their sense of smell for feeding and finding a place to lay their eggs.

  • Fossil records show that beetles were abundant during the Mesozoic (about 200 million years ago) and they were flower visitors of the earliest angiosperms.
  • Ladybugs are natural enemies of many insects that we consider pests. A single ladybug can eat as many as 5,000 aphids in its lifetime!

  • Many beetle species eat pollen, so the plants they visit must produce a lot of pollen to make sure that there is enough left to pollinate the flower after the beetles are done eating!
  • Beetles are attracted to spicy, fruity or rancid flesh-like odors.
  • Most beetles need a wide opening to get into the flower because they are clumsy fliers.


Flowers have maintained a partnership with insect pollinators from the beginning. They are masters at attracting these love messengers and perpetuating the species through pollination. They use countless ways to accomplish this goal.


Monday, March 2, 2015

The Earliest Pollinators: Beetles and Flies

Magnolia © Beatriz Moisset

By the time the first flowering plants appeared on Earth there weren’t any bees or butterflies. Those superb pollinators would take millions of years to evolve from wasps and moths respectively. So, who would be attracted to flowers? Who would carry pollen?

Other insects, although not adapted to sipping nectar and storing pollen in little baskets, liked to visit flowering plants to eat the pollen. Sometimes, they also devoured the flowers themselves. Beetles and flies were among the earliest pollinators. These two groups of insects visit the flowers of magnolia and water lilies to this day. In general, flowers pollinated by beetles are cup-shaped to allow these insects to stay for some time. They are strongly scented by fruity or rotten smell. The petals may be tough and leathery, helping them to put up with the abuse; many of them are greenish or creamy white.

Tumbling flower beetles on magnolia © Beatriz Moisset

The state flower of Louisiana and of Mississippi is the Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) which is an example of some of the oldest flowering plants; it presents all the qualities listed above and it is pollinated by beetles that use the flowers as a singles bar. They stay for hours eating, drinking, mating and making a mess of the place. When they arrive, usually only the female part of the flower is mature enough, so if they carry pollen from other flowers they get cross-pollinated, but by the time the beetles leave, the stamens or male parts have become ripe. The visitors get easily dusted with it and ready to carry it to the next awaiting singles bar. Beetles and flies find a coating of nectar covering the petals that they can slurp as they go along.

Dance fly on Magnolia © Beatriz Moisset

Another ancient flower, the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica), California’s state flower is also pollinated by beetles in some instances. These are more numerous than bees in arid areas. Several species of bees, including honey bees also pollinate these flowers.

California poppy © Audrey. Flickr

The following posts deal with these pollinators and their flowers. We will start with the ones who invite a wide assortment of guests. They have mass appeal and several state flowers illustrate this nicely.

What is a pollinator?

A pollinator is anything that helps carry pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma). The movement of pollen must occur for the the plant to become fertilized and produce fruits, seeds, and young plants. Some plants are self-pollinating, while others may be fertilized by pollen carried by wind or water. Still, other flowers are pollinated by insects and animals — such as bees, wasps, moths, butterflies, birds, flies and small mammals, including bats.

Insects and other animals such as bats, beetles, and flies visit flowers in search of food, shelter, nest-building materials, and sometimes even mates. Some pollinators, including many bee species, intentionally collect pollen. Others, such as many butterflies, birds and bats move pollen accidentally. Pollen sticks on their bodies while they are drinking or feeding on nectar in the flower blooms and is transported unknowingly from flower to flower resulting in pollination.


Pollinator Stats

  • Color: Varies by species
  • Legs: 6
  • Shape: Oval
  • Size: Varies by species
  • Antennae: Yes
  • Region: Found throughout U.S.

Habitat and Habits

Beetles are an extremely large and diverse group of insects and are generally less active around flowers than bees and butterflies but are important pollinators in some regions of the world. However, beetles are more likely to consume parts of plants and flowers instead of just drinking nectar. As they move from place to place searching for food, they may transfer pollen from the flowers they visit.

Use Caution

Many species of beetles use chemical defenses to ward off predators. Some of these compounds are capable of causing mild burns or blisters on skin.

You can help!

Pollinators make the world more beautiful with blooming plants and flowers, and work hard to pollinate crops that provide food for our country. Learn what you can do to help protect the pollinators in your community.

For more information, view the USDA preliminary report on honey bee health here.

See also:  Top 3 Causes of Ants in an Apartment, OhMyApartment

© 2020 National Pest Management Association.

Globally, pollinators are in decline

How do we know pollinator populations are in decline?
Historically, managed honey bee populations in the US and Europe have been monitored due to their vital role in providing pollination services in agricultural systems. Several studies indicate that American and European beekeepers are suffering large annual losses. In the US, beekeepers have lost

30% of their colonies every year since 2006, with total annual losses sometimes reaching as high as 42% (Bee Informed Partnership). Population changes in other insect pollinator species, such as other bee species, flies, butterflies and beetles have not been as closely tracked. Indeed, there are several hundred thousand species of pollinators and tracking all of them is not possible. However, surveys have documented disturbing population declines and even local extinctions of select pollinator species across Europe and the US.

Why are pollinator populations in decline?
Wild and managed pollinators face numerous stressors. Honey bees, other managed pollinator species such as bumble bees and orchard bees, and wild bees suffer from exposure to parasites and pesticides, and loss of floral abundance and diversity due to increased land-use. In addition, habitat destruction limits nesting sites for wild pollinators. Unfortunately, these stressors may interact synergistically to produce more detrimental effects on pollinator health.

Fossilized Beetle Is Earliest Evidence of Insect Pollinator

A 99-million-year-old beetle preserved in amber alongside grains of pollen likely pollinated prehistoric plants.

Abby Olena
Aug 16, 2018

M ost modern gymnosperms—conifers and gingkoes, for instance—rely on the wind to spread their pollen. For some gymnosperms called cycads, insects serve as their pollen shuttle service, and did so long before flowering plants needed bees and butterflies for pollination. The discovery, published today (August 16) in Current Biology, of a beetle fossilized in Burmese amber together with grains of cycad pollen reveals that the relationship between these plants and insects may have begun long before the 99-million-year-old fossil formed—at least 167 million years ago—the earliest evidence uncovered to date.

This amber fossil “almost captures behavior, and that’s really hard in the fossil record,” says Nathalie Nagalingum, a plant evolutionary biologist at the California Academy of Sciences who was not involved in the study. “It’s not exactly showing that the pollen grains were on the insects, but it’s almost there. It’s kind of remarkable.”

Previous findings have shown that both beetles and cycads were around at least 250 million years ago, and may have been interacting even back then. But finding evidence of their partnership in fossils compressed in rock—the primary type of fossil available from earlier than about 120 million years ago—is tricky because of the lack of detail.

Study coauthor Chenyang Cai, a paleobiologist affiliated with the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology in China and the University of Bristol in the UK, suspected that the group of beetles called boganiids he’d seen in stone fossils dating from about 160 million to 200 million years ago were candidates for pollinating ancient plants based on the shape of their large mandibles and because similar beetles pollinate modern cycads these days. So when his colleague and study coauthor Diying Huang of the Nanjing Institute of Geology and Palaeontology brought Cai a fossil of Burmese amber that Huang had purchased from Myanmar locals at the Chinese-Myanmar border that appeared to contain such a beetle, Cai was elated. The amber just might give him the detail he’d been searching for.

Cai cut and polished the specimen to get a closer look and realized that the 2-millimeter-long beetle had large mandibles and extremely long mouthparts called maxillary palps—features characteristic of pollinators. He also found that the amber contained clusters of pollen grains. In the study, the authors compare the beetle’s morphology to that of a modern cycad pollinator and classify the fossil as a boganiid beetle, which they named Cretoparacucujus cycadophilus. The three-dimensional features of the pollen grains appeared to be from cycads. Taken together, the preserved specimen points to a pollinator relationship dating back many millions of years.

“It’s a very interesting and intriguing paper,” says Conrad Labandeira, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, who did not participate in the study. “The authors did a pretty good job of looking at this specimen and putting it in its appropriate phylogenetic context and looking at the pollen and putting that into a phylogenetic context and then combining the two into an ecological relationship that goes all the way back to the early part of the Mesozoic [Era].”

Nagalingum cautions that these pollen grains are very difficult to ascribe to a particular plant group, and they could also have come from another ancient gymnosperm. “There’s just so much uncertainty associated with paleobotany” because complete plant fossils are so rare, she says.

Sarah Mathews, a botanist affiliated with the Australian National Herbarium in Canberra and Harvard University, agrees that the biggest open question is the pollen’s identity. It is a reasonable hypothesis that the pollen comes from cycads, she says, but “the clincher would have been, they have the beetles with the pollen grains [and] an actual pollen cone of a cycad.”

According to Mathews, it is possible that such a fossil exists and just hasn’t been found yet. “There’s much more out there to be discovered,” she says. “One of the reasons this is exciting is it gives us another hint of what the interactions between plants and insects actually were in a time that is very long ago.”

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