Beetles: The Unexpected Pollinators

When most people think about pollinators, species such as butterflies, and bees come to mind. If pressed, some might remember that hummingbirds are also pollinators but usually no one connects that beetles are pollinators too. I know beetles sometimes get a bad rap but they are a very important pollinator for certain species of plants as well as complimenting the work of other pollinators in the garden.

Beetles actually make up about 40% of all insects in the world. They are part of the largest and most diverse order in the animal kingdom, the Coleoptera order. The Coleoptera order encompasses more than 380,000 species worldwide! (Surprisingly the coleoptera order actually encompass 25% of all species in the world!).

Beetles have been around much longer than other pollinators. Evidence of their existence dates back to the dinosaur age. Therefore, some older varieties of plants are only pollinated by beetles. Of these is the magnolia tree. Magnolias date back 100 million years; they are thought to be one of the earliest known flowering plants and evolved before bees. Consequently, beetles are the insects that pollinate magnolia flowers.

Beetles are messy pollinators in that they often eat through leaves and petals. As they do so pollen attaches to their bodies as they move from flower to flower. Beetle pollinated flowers such as magnolias have evolved to have thicker leaves and flowers so that they can survive the feeding damage of beetles. In your garden, beetles help pollinate flowers such as yarrow and sunflowers.

Probably the most commonly known beetle is the ladybug. Ladybugs are considered beneficial insects in the garden since they are predators for many common garden pests. However, they also pollinate flowers as they move amongst the flowers in search of food (ex. aphids). Although ladybugs are not necessarily “active” pollinators like bees who actively search out nectar. Instead, they are more accidental in their approach. As they search out bugs, they disperse pollen that attaches to their body from one flower to another.

So, the next time you see a magnolia or visit a field of sunflowers just remember beetles played a role in the pollination of these breathtaking flowers.

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