As spring approaches, are we thinking about pollinators? How often do we stop to think of the importance of pollinators to food security?
Pollination is often described as the transfer of pollen grains from the anther to the stigma of a flowering plant. These transfers are made possible due to pollinator visits in exchange of pollen and nectar from the plants.
Who are our pollinators?
Main Global Pollinators
Honeybees Alfalfa leafcutter bee
Bumble bees Mason bees
Stingless bees Other leafcutter bees
How can we care for pollinators?
Photo by Donna Arnold
We can care for our pollinators by growing plants that have abundant and accessible pollen and nectar.
Choose plants with flat flowers or short to medium-length flowers tubes (corollas), and limit plants with long flower tubes such as honey suckle.
Avoid plant varieties that do not provide floral rewards (pollen), which is the essential food source for bees. (e.g., some sunflower, and lilies).
Many native wild bees have relatively short proboscises, or tongues, and may not be able to access nectar from flowers with long tubes; however, flowers with long floral tubes can attract other pollinators with long tongues or beaks such as butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds.
Are we creating an ecosystem aesthetically pleasing while attracting pollinators?
UF/IFAS Photo by Tyler Jones
The planting of native wildflower in Florida can benefit agricultural producers likewise, native pollinators and other beneficials such as parasitoids and predators. Some of the main benefits of growing native wildflower are:
- Increasing wild bee presence in the surroundings.
- Providing nesting and foraging sites for pollinators, butterflies, bees etc.
- Increasing natural enemies of pest insects.
It is important to select mix varieties of native wildflower when restoring habitats for our pollinators. Mix varieties will flower all year round and make available continuous supply of nectar and pollen. If possible, use wildflower seeds that are produced in the state that you want to carry out pollinators’ restoration. It is highly likely that one will experience better growth from locally produced seeds because they will adapt better to regional growing conditions and the climate. For optimum flowering and high production of floral rewards such as pollen and nectar. Place wildflowers in areas free of pesticide and soil disturbance.
Most bee species are solitary, and 70% of these solitary bees’ nest in the ground. A wildflower area of refuge can fulfill the shelter resource needs of these bees since that area will not undergo regular tilling, thus minimizing nest disturbance.
Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publications (Common Native Wildflowers of North Florida) visit : https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/EP/EP061/EP061-15448828.pdf and Attracting Native Bees to Your Florida Landscape IN125500.pdf (ufl.edu.
While we think of most flies as pests, garden flies, such as Allograpta obliqua species found in Florida, are excellent pollinators and predators of insects. Photo by Jessica Louque, Smithers Viscient, Bugwood.org.
While our sentiments toward flies usually involve fly swatters, believe it or not, not all flies are nuisance pests! Some types of flies can actually be quite helpful in the garden.
These garden flies are nothing like your typical pesky house fly. While house flies and garden flies are both insects in the order Diptera, they are not in the same insect family, which is the next classification down in Linnaean taxonomy.
The nectar-loving garden flies that specifically visit flowers are in the family Syrphidae and are known as Syrphid flies, hoverflies, or flower flies. Although not as well-known in the pollinating world, there are almost 900 species of flower flies in North America, and they can be very colorful and eye-catching in the garden.
Allograpta obliqua flower fly adults are small and have bright yellow and black crossbands on their abdomens. Photo by Susan Ellis, Bugwood.org.
One of the most common flower flies in Florida is the species Allograpta obliqua. Members of this species, also called hoverflies, are often mistaken as fruit flies, and can therefore be perceived as harmful. But to the contrary, adults cross pollinate many flowers, and hoverfly larvae feed on predators, such as aphids that attack vegetables, fruit trees, cotton, ornamentals, and many wild plants. In fact, when there are numerous hoverfly larvae present, they can reduce aphid infestations by 70 to 100 percent!
Allograpta obliqua adults can be hard to spot, as they are a mere six-to-seven millimeters in length. Although small, they have distinct bright-yellow and black crossbands on their abdomen and become particularly abundant in the spring and summer here in the Florida Panhandle.
So, before you go swatting at any ole fly you see, remember that flower flies are our allies in the garden. Adults will aid in the pollination of our crops and landscape plants, and larvae will help defend our spring and summer veggies from the devastation of harmful insect attacks.
Learn more about Allograpta obliqua hoverfly species at the UF/IFAS Featured Creatures website (https://entnemdept.ufl.edu/creatures/beneficial/hover_fly.htm).
While most people are familiar with the European honey bee, the domesticated insect that pollinates our crops and provides us with honey, there are plenty of other species of bees and their relatives out there. Most of them are harmless, spending their time quietly pollinating plants, including our crops. Their presence in the landscape, however, may cause some alarm, as it can be difficult for the untrained eye to distinguish between aggressive species and those that are innocuous.
The entrance to a miner bee burrow.
Homeowners may occasionally note small mounds of soil in sandy areas of their lawns. Sometimes sporting a small hole in the center, these are the nesting sites of solitary, ground-nesting bees or hornets. Miner bees or digger bees build underground chambers, usually in well-drained, otherwise bare areas of sandy soil. Multiple bees may choose to dig their nests in the same location, though each bee makes its own tunnel and they do not live communally. Each bee lays her eggs in the nest she has excavated. She gathers pollen to feed the young when they hatch, stocks the larder, and leaves. When the young emerge from the nest, they fly away and do not remain; they will dig their own nests when they are ready to reproduce. While there is no need to control these insects (they serve as fantastic pollinators), the mounds of soil they make may be aesthetically displeasing to some people. Keeping a healthy lawn with no bare patches can deter miner bees from nesting in an area. Irrigation sprinklers can also help to keep the ground moist; these bees prefer dry soil, so it may keep them away. Care must be taken not to over-water a lawn, however!
A cicada killer wasp. Photo credit: Division of Plant Industry
Another species of note is the cicada killer hornet. Also known as the giant ground hornet, these insects grow to a size of about an inch and a half in length. Instead of pollen, they capture cicadas to feed their young. Like the miner bee, though, they are not harmful. Females do possess a stinger which they use to hunt their prey. Males may try to warn people or animals away from their burrows by acting aggressive, but they have no stingers. Some may see the large size of the cicada killer and wonder if the so-called “murder hornet” has made its way from Washington state to Florida, but as of this writing it has not. Unless you are a cicada, you have nothing to fear.
One ground-dwelling hornet that does warrant some concern is the yellowjacket. These are communal hornets, living in hives that are often build underground. Yellowjackets are known for their bad attitudes, attacking anyone who disturbs the entrance to their nest. They can be beneficial, being predators of many other insects including plant pests. A colony located too close to human dwellings or areas of activity is most often a nuisance, however. Any attempts to control yellowjacket nests should be done at night when they are less active. Protective clothing is recommended even then. Large or difficult to reach nests may require the attention of a certified pest control company.
For more information on these topics, see our EDIS publications:
Miner Bees: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/in912
Cicada Killers: https://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/publication/in573
False Foxglove in a Calhoun County natural area. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
Fall is the absolute best season for wildflower watching in the Panhandle! When mid-September rolls around and the long days of summer finally shorten, giving way to drier air and cooler nights, northwest Florida experiences a wildflower color explosion. From the brilliant yellow of Swamp Sunflower and Goldenrod, to the soothing blue of Mistflower, and the white-on-gold of Spanish Needles, there is no shortage of sights to see from now until frost. But, in my opinion, the star of the fall show is the currently flowering False Foxglove (Agalinus spp.).
Named for the appearance of their brilliant pink flowers, which bear a resemblance to the northern favorite Foxglove (Digitalis spp.), “False Foxglove” is actually the common name of several closely related species of parasitic plants in the genus Agalinus that are difficult to distinguish by all but the keenest of botanists. Regardless of which species you may see, False Foxglove is an unusual and important Florida native plant. Emerging from seed each spring in the Panhandle, plants grow quickly through the summer to a mature height of 3-5’. During this time, False Foxglove is about as inconspicuous a plant as grows. Consisting of a wispy thin woody stem with very small, narrow leaves, plants remain hidden in the flatwoods and sand hill landscapes that they inhabit. However, when those aforementioned shorter September days arrive, False Foxglove explodes into flower sporting sprays of dozens of light purple to pink tubular-shaped flowers that remain until frost ends the season.
False Foxglove flowering in a Calhoun County natural area. Photo courtesy of Daniel Leonard.
In addition to being unmatched in flower, False Foxglove also plays several important ecological roles in Florida’s natural areas. First, False Foxglove’s relatively large, tubular-shaped flowers are the preferred nectar sources for the larger-sized native solitary and bumble bees present in the Panhandle, though all manner of generalist bees and butterflies will also visit for a quick sip. Second, False Foxglove is the primary host plant for the unique Common Buckeye butterfly. One of the most easily recognizable butterflies due to the large “eye” spots on their wings, Common Buckeye larvae (caterpillars), feed on False Foxglove foliage during the summer before emerging as adults and adding to the fall spectacle. Finally, False Foxglove is an important indicator of a healthy native ecosystem. As a parasitic plant, False Foxglove obtains nutrients and energy by photosynthesis AND by using specialized roots to tap into the roots of nearby suitable hosts (native grasses and other plants). As both False Foxglove and its parasitic host plants prefer to grow in the sunny, fire-exposed pine flatwoods and sand ridges that characterized pre-settlement Florida, you can be fairly confident that if you see a natural area with an abundance of False Foxglove in flower, that spot is in good ecological shape!
The Florida Panhandle is nearly unmatched in its fall wildflower diversity and False Foxglove plays a critical part in the show. From its stunning flowers to its important ecological roles, one would be hard-pressed to find a more unique native wildflower! For more information about False Foxglove and other Florida native wildflowers, contact your local UF/IFAS County Extension office.
We hope that you enjoyed the live Q&A with the University of Florida Extension Agent Evan Anderson and Research Coordinator Chris Oster of the UF Honey bee Research and Extension Lab. Below are the questions with the publication links that were provided during the discussion.
What is the best way to get started with a 0.25 acre, residential yard?
How to keep the bee colony in the winter?
How much room should I have for a couple small hives? How many hives should I start with…3?
How much time is involved in the care of the bees and their hive?
Is there a small hive available for a tiny back yard?
What equipment is needed to get started?
Does placing bee hives a certain minimum distance apart help to reduce honey bee colony mortality?
Does Dr. Leo Sharashkin’s Russian concept of horizontal hives fit the environment of the Florida Panhandle?
What is the best treatment for varroa mites?
Identifying behaviors displayed, in order to split the hive. Best time to add supers?
What are good plants for honey bees?
I live near farm fields that use commercial pesticides, can I still bee keep? What are the concerns and how do I mitigate them?
As a first year beekeeper, does all of the rain we’ve experienced this year create any problems that I should be looking for?
Should we be worried about the Asian Giant Hornets in the Florida Panhandle?
We have identified honey bees, cutter bees and carpenter bees in our garden. Should we provide a bee house?
Any killer bees in the area?
Bats bring a beneficial component to your property and community. This flying mammal is an exceptional nocturnal feeder of many insect pests and they are important pollinators of many food plants. However, several challenges face this night flyer, like reduced roosting locations, reduced foraging sights, and over use of pesticides.
Photo courtesy: Stephen Greer
There are ways to attract bats to your backyard, farm, and community. Placement of bat boxes with ample water sources nearby is a good start. Water sources are another area of importance to attract bats. Have you sat by a swimming pool and witnessed a bat swoop down and skim across the water? It is likely they are either consuming a little water after feeding on a large number of harmful insects or are wetting their modified arms (wings) to help remove dust and dirt to reduce drag on their wings. Bats are the only mammal that are capable of true flight, the modified wings with skin spanning between specific bone structures allows them to accomplish this amazing action.
We often refer to bats as blind, but they can see shadows if out during daylight hours. This poor sight is not helpful enough for survival, this is where their echolocation abilities come into play. Humans studied bats to better understand how they make the sounds that bounce of an object and back to their sensing system that includes exceptional hearing. They locate and consume insects this way. If this sounds familiar, sonar systems were developed by studying this process.
Bats are the major harvester of night-flying insects, many that carry diseases that impact humans and other animals. Insect prey for bats include cockroaches, mosquitos, moths, beetles, gnats and others. A Big Brown Bat can catch and consume 3,000 to 7,000 mosquitos a night. Multiple this by a large bat population the amount of harmful insects harvested can go into the thousands of tons in a year. This is a positive impact for our forest and agriculture lands against major pests.
Florida is home to 13 different species of bats. They are always on the hunt for warm, dry, dark areas that are either natural or manmade narrow crevices. Out of all of these species, 4 bats are the primary inhabitants of bat houses. The Evening Bat and Brazilian free-tailed Bat are the most common in the panhandle of Florida. The Big Brown Bat and Southeastern Bat can at times occupy houses.
Photo courtesy: Matt Lollar
You can often locate bats boxes at your garden and agriculture centers or order online. Another option is to build your own boxes. Just remember the best way to erect a bat box is on a tall post. It is recommended to set the boxes around 10 feet off the ground. Placing boxes on trees creates a setting for potential predators to approach and feed on bats. Snakes have been known to enter and feed on young bats that are not fully developed and at best are poor fliers.
As a reminder, never touch a bat or any other wild animals. Bats that are healthy are not found on the ground, so assume the bat is not health and may be carrying a disease. On a final note, enjoy sitting on the back porch and watching the acrobatics of these amazing mammals in the evening sky.