By Sasha Kodet
Keep your eyes peeled for pollinators and share your observations on social media to help raise awareness about the importance of native pollinators.
Clouds of monarch butterflies float by San Antonio every fall on their way to Mexico, but we’re seeing fewer today as their population has dropped by almost 80 percent in the last two decades.
With many other pollinator species also in decline, organizations across Texas are raising awareness about the importance of pollinators with the second annual Pollinator BioBlitz Sept. 23 to Oct. 8.
The challenge: Look for pollinators and post pictures of them to Facebook or Instagram with the hashtag #TXpollinators. Identify the pollinator as best you can in your caption, even if it’s just ‘butterfly’ or ‘bee.’ You can also share your observations with the Texas Pollinator BioBlitz iNaturalist project.
Participants can register online to get daily observation challenges and snap photos in their own yard, city or anywhere in Texas. Learn what all the buzz is about at one of the upcoming BioBlitz events and stay connected by joining the the Pollinator BioBlitz event page on Facebook .
Texas is a sweet spot to look for pollinators, with its prime location along the Central Flyway and more than 5,000 flowering plants. Millions of monarch butterflies funnel through the state during migration, dropping down into our gardens to fuel up on nectar. This citizen science project helps collect valuable data on our native pollinators and the fall migration.
Let’s make San Antonio a pollinator-friendly rest stop for migrating monarchs and hummingbirds, as well as our resident pollinators. Monarchs and other pollinators are declining due to habitat loss, pesticides and parasites. Here’s how you can help.
• Plan your garden to include plants that bloom in different seasons so nectar and pollen are available year round. A few possibilities: prairie verbena, Turk’s cap, autumn sage, fall aster and mealy cup sage.
• Add host plants that provide food for caterpillars. Ask your nursery to make sure they haven’t been treated with systemic insecticides. And avoid using pesticides in your garden — most insects are harmless or even beneficial.
• Butterflies love visiting mud puddles where they sip nutrients.
• Create nesting sites for native bees by leaving patches of bare ground and brush piles.
• Choose native plants to help connect natural ecosystems and create a nature-rich city.
Pollinators sustain our natural ecosystems as most flowering plants require animals to reproduce. They’re an integral part of many food webs, including our own. Insects pollinate three-quarters of our food crops, including apples, avocados, coffee and my personal favorite, chocolate. Did you know cacao is pollinated by the chocolate midge fly?
Flies, wasps, moths and beetles are also important pollinators even though butterflies, bees and hummingbirds often get all the attention.
Keep an eye out for these flower tricks and pollinator behaviors:
• Some flowers have nectar guides, or lines, to quickly lead insects to the sweet nectar.
• Look for honey bees or bumble bees combing pollen from their bodies into the pollen baskets on their hind legs. They form large yellow or orange clumps and carry them back to the hive.
• Watch for nectar robbers! Some bees poke holes in the flower to “steal” nectar without pollinating the plant.
Make some time to meet your “wild” neighbors over the next two weeks!
Sasha Kodet is a conservation planner whose large garden attracts a myriad of wildlife and curious neighbors with minimal water. At SAWS, Kodet develops outdoor programs to help people create their own beautiful, water-saving landscapes. She draws on her two decades of experience as a naturalist, botanical garden educator and event planner. Kodet enjoys (really) long walks in the woods and has thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and the Long Trail.