Written by Micah Kaufmann, Earth Grant Intern
Have you noticed within the past few weeks more bees and wasps out and about? It’s a sign of spring time! Pollinators of all kinds come out of winter hibernation or pass through Arizona as they migrate. Creatures like the carpenter bee and the paper wasp are classic examples of pollinators, but there are so many more insects and animals that help pollinate plants. Here is a (very short) list of some of the great pollinators of the Sonoran Desert.
Several species of bats, especially the Mexican long-tongued (Choeronycteris mexicana), whose tongue is specifically adapted to reaching deep into cactus blooms, are considered important and adept pollinators. As they fly from cactus to cactus, they collect and distribute pollen, just like a giant bumblebee.
While it’s true that these wasps (Pepsis thisbe) are known for hunting down giant spiders, in their free time they often like to check out plants. The young consume their tarantula host when they are born, but as adults, they mostly drink nectar. Their favorite seems to be that of the milkweed—just like monarchs, only much deadlier!
Moths of the Sphingid family are known for their impressive sizes, often growing a wingspan of up to 4in. Also known as hawk moths, they possess one of the largest proboscises in the world. This coupled with their impressive, hovering flying patterns lead many to mistake them for hummingbirds. They use their long tongues to reach deep into certain flowers, often collecting pollen as they do, and carrying it off to similar plants.
Doves might be a surprise, as they’re not often discussed in terms of their pollinating abilities. They migrate to the Sonoran Desert when the saguaro cacti go into their breeding season. These doves are often called “saguaro specialists” (migratory pollinators), with the saguaro being integral to their lifestyles. They enjoy eating the saguaro’s fruits, and distribute the cactus’ seeds and pollen as they do so.
This one may sound a little odd, but the wind does more for pollination than we tend to think it does. It carries microscopic seeds and spores over vast distances, as well as loose pollen, dropping some by each plant it passes. It can also bring faint scents to animals and insects, guiding them to sweet-smelling flowers.
There are of course many other creatures that deserve to be on this list. For example, did you know that scientists estimate Arizona to host the largest diversity of bees in the world? If you want to learn more about your local pollinators, there are many local groups to help you out. And if you’d like a chance to attract some of the wonderful creatures, look up how to start a pollinator garden using safe alternatives to pesticides.