How to help Ohio’s specialist pollinators

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monarch butterfly

Many species of bees, wasps, butterflies, moths birds and even a few species of bats make up Ohio’s pollinators. For the most part, these pollinators visit a variety of plants as they forage. However, a few stick to a more limited menu. These pollinators are called specialists.

Specialists tend to focus on one species or family of flower. Many times, specialists are driven by the necessity of having one food source. Other times, these pollinators seem to be specially made to pollinate specific plants. In this instance, the plant is reliant on one type of pollinator to visit and pollinate it.

On the surface, it seems like specialists are limited; however, the reality is many pollinators are more efficient and effective at gathering pollen than species that visit a variety of flowers.

Helping Monarch butterflies

Monarch butterflies are one of the most well-known pollinators with a specialist relationship. Monarchs depend on at least 13 of Ohio’s species of milkweed during every stage of their life cycle. They lay eggs on milkweed. Monarch caterpillars feed specifically on milkweed. Milkweed nectar also attracts adult monarchs, even though they forage on other native plants.

How to help – Milkweed is the most important plant in a monarch butterfly’s lifecycle. By planting more milkweed and participating in annual milkweed pod collection programs hosted by soil and water conservation districts around that state, we can help Ohio’s monarch butterfly population for generations to come.

Find more tips by reading, How to create a butterfly garden.

Helping specialist bees

Due to its solitary lifestyle, the hibiscus bee, also called the rose-mallow bee, is often overlooked, and sometimes mistaken for a small bumble bee. As its name suggests, this bee concentrates on foraging on hibiscus flowers, particularly the rose-mallow hibiscus. In addition to hibiscus flowers, this pollinator also likes morning glories and ironweed.

The squash bee is another specialist, but it’s not originally native to Ohio. As squash and pumpkin plants started being grown outside the Southwestern U.S., the squash bee spread to other parts of the county. It specializes in pollinating — you guessed it — squash plants. Its superpower is locating squash blooms earlier in the day than other bee species, getting first dibs on the pollen inside each flower.

Ohio is also home to many species of long-horned bees, specialists with a unique gift. The long antennae males have make them specially equipped to pollinate composite flowers — flowers that contain smaller flowers within the main bloom, like sunflowers. Additionally, a few species of long-horned bees specialize in pollinating daisies and asters. Long-horned bees are most abundant when these flowers are in full bloom during late summer.

How to help – Planting the natives these bees rely on will help maintain populations within Ohio. You might also try some of these ideas:

Helping specialist plants, too

Although moths are less flashy and more frequently overlooked, they are vital to the plants that rely on them. One example in Ohio is in the case of the federally-threatened prairie fringed orchid, which can only be pollinated by certain species of spine moths. Although these moths pollinate other plants, they are critical to the lifecycle of the prairie fringed orchid. The spine moths that are able to pollinate the orchids are specially outfitted with a long proboscis to gather nectar from the plant’s deep nectar spurs. From there, their job is completed unintentionally as the pollen sticks to them and is spread from plant to plant.

The case of the prairie fringed orchid is a great reminder that by helping pollinators, we’re doing so much more than just helping pollinators. We’re ensuring flowers bloom, food grows and our ecosystems remain healthy.

Don’t stop at helping the specialists mentioned in this article. Find more ways to help the pollinators in your backyard by checking out the related links below.

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Sara is Farm and Dairy’s online content producer. Raised in Portage County, Ohio, she earned a magazine journalism degree from Kent State University. She enjoys spending time with her daughter, traveling, writing, reading and outdoor recreation.

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