Species Spotlight: Insects & Pollination

Species Spotlight: Insects & Pollination

Shannah is back again with another round of species spotlight this month, featuring a few of Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens’ pollinators and interesting insects. 

Pollinators and Insects 

April showers bring May flowers! How do we get such beautiful flowers to bloom year after year? Pollination!

Pollination is the process by which the pollen grains found on the male part of a flower (anther) are then transferred to the female part of another flower (stigma) to begin fertilization. Around 75% of all flowering plants require the help of an animal to pollinate them and the vast majority of those pollinators are insects. An insect will land on a flower to feed and pollen will attach to their body like this bee covered in pollen. However, insects do not get to have all of the fun pollinating flowers. Birds, bats and small mammals are also pollinator animals like these tiny harvest mice collecting pollen while hanging out in tulips.

photo of a honey bee approaching a sunflower with pollen on it's leg
A honeybee approaches a sunflower, laden with pollen. Credit to Quadell from Wikimedia Commons

Many insects are invertebrates. Their structural body support is on the outside and is called an exoskeleton. Spring weather is on the way bringing with it the emergence of Brood X. These 17-year cicadas will shed their nymph exoskeletons and turn into an adult insect with wings in the same way a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. The cicadas will dominate the environment by the thousands, but other insects will continue to pollinate flowers at the Gardens.

A photo of a 17 year cicada, brood x. The cicada sits on a log with grass surrounding it. It has orange wings, a black body, and red eyes.
A Brood X 17-year cicada perched on a log. Credit to pmjacoby from Wikimedia Commons.

Pollinator Plants at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Mother’s Day is here (Moms! We love you a lotus!) and lilies are among the more popular additions to a floral arrangement. The water lily pads are just starting to grow out in the ponds. Once in bloom, damselfly insects can be seen resting on the flower petals. Visitors frequently capture images of butterflies walking on rosemallow flowers. Beetles like to hang out on yellow iris flowers and pickerel weed flowers. The Gardens are also home to a few native DC pollinator trees including but not limited to the red maple, pawpaw, and pink dogwood.

a close up photo of a white water lily bathed in light.
A white water lily captured at Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a favorite flower of our pollinators! Credit to Megan Singleton, via FoKAG.

Have you ever wondered what flowers look like to insects? A lot of insects see in ultraviolet (UV) which is a wavelength of light on the color spectrum that humans cannot see. If you stare at an insect pollinator for long enough then you will notice that they often land and go straight to the center of the flower. How is that possible? UV light has revealed that most flowers appear to have a centralized marking directing pollinators on where to go when they land. Take for instance this side-by-side comparison of a snowdrop flower in the visible light that humans see (white) as opposed to the UV light that honeybees see (orange and black). Nature is truly amazing!

a side by side comparison of a snowdrop photo, the left taken with a normal camera in color and the right taken with a UV camera.
Comparison looking up at the inside of a Galanthus nivalis (Common Snowdrop) flower photographed in visible light (left) and ultraviolet light (right). This image was altered to remove the infrared comparison. Photo credit to Dave Kennard via Wikimedia Commons.

The flowers at the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are host to a wide range of animal pollinators. See if you can spot any insects with pollen on them the next time you visit the Gardens!

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