About Pollinators: St. Thomas Pollinator Path


Seeing Pollinators

Seeing pollinators is easy--just stop for a few seconds and focus on movement instead of the colorful flowers.  Within seconds, you will see all the insect activity taking place on and around the plants.

Pollinators on campus fall generally into these types:  honey bees (non-native, but still very important), native bees (including bumblebees), wasps, syrphid flies, butterflies and moths and beetles.  In the natural world, many other animals, including larger ones like birds, bats, rodents, lizards, etc. also pollinate plants.  However, these pollinators do not play an important role in pollinating the plants we have on the St. Thomas campus.  


 ‌honey bee for web

Honey bees

  • Hairy golden yellow with striped abdomen
  • Oval eyes on the side of the head
  • Long antennae
  • Do not hover
  • Two pairs of wings often clipped together
  • Honey bees are generalists in terms of the types of flowers they visit.
  • This is bee most people think about when they hear the word "bee".
  • This honeybee is on a Swamp Milkweed flower.
‌‌‌bumblebee for web

Native bees:  Bumblebees

  • Generally stockier and more heavy-bodied than honey bees, can be quite large
  • Oval eyes on the side of the head
  • Hairy yellow and black, sometimes with red stripes
  • Long antennae
  • Do not hover
  • Two pair of wings often clipped together
  • Bumblebees are also generalists in terms of the types of flowers they visit.
  • MN has 20 different species of bumblebees.
  • Photo shows a bumble bee on an annual Salvia.
carder bee

Native bees:  Others

  • Similar to honey bees in size or can be small to tiny
  • Many types:  carpenter bees, miner bees, sweat bees and carder bees to name a few
  • Often specialized pollinators
  • Oval eyes on the side of the head
  • Hairy
  • Long antennae
  • Can be striped, black, or multi-colored
  • Do not hover
  • Two pair of wings often clipped together
  • Photo shows a carder bee on an annual Salvia.


 ‌wasp for web


  • Long and skinny compared to bees
  • Not hairy
  • Can be striped or all one color
  • Long antennae
  • Long legs
  • Oval eyes on the side of the head
 ‌fly for web

Syrphid flies

  • Very small
  • Often hover around flowers
  • Very short antennae
  • One pair of wings--often held straight out from body
  • Eyes almost meet at the top of the head
  • This fly is visiting an annual Salvia.
 ‌butterfly for about pollinators

Butterflies and moths

  • Need little explanation
  • Note that there are a few day-flying moths.
  • This is a red admiral butterfly on an Echinacea flower.


  • Have comparatively small heads
  • Keep wings covered. 
  • This is a soldier beetle on a Black-eyed Susan. 



Pollinators are in trouble


Many of you have probably heard that honey bees have been affected by Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), causing worrisome declines in numbers of hives.  The USDA reported that the US lost half of it's honey bee hives to CCD in 2012-13. It is also true that many of our native pollinators (bees and butterflies, especially) have suffered serious declines in numbers.  The causes for these declines in numbers of native bees are familiar ones:  climate change, extensive use of pesticides/herbicides and loss of habitat.  Climate change causes changes in temperatures that can affect flowering times of preferred plants, potentially leaving pollinators with less food at a crucial time. Native bees have also been found to be much more susceptible to common pesticides, like neonicotinoids, than honey bees.  Agriculture and increased urban development both contribute to loss of crucial habitat for pollinators.  Loss of habitat means two things to pollinators: loss of food sources and loss of nesting sites.  We can address the first by planting flowers that provide pollen and nectar, and the second by learning about how to provide a landscape that suits the needs of nesting bees. 

Once you begin to notice pollinators; you look at the urban landscape in a whole new way.  For example, that bed of daylilies you once thought was so pretty, now is seen as an area devoid of pollinators that could be replaced with Minnesota wildflowers, or Salvia, catmint, or dozens of other cultivars that play host to a variety of pollinators.  Seeing the landscape through the eyes of pollinators can lead you to make it a little more hospitable to them.  



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