Hooray for Pollinators!

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National Pollinator Week is June 20 to 26, 2011, and there is no easier way to convince people that we need insects than with pollinators. Everyone knows pollinators are important, but it is hard to conceive of how heavily we rely upon them for our survival. Pollinators—the various bees, flies, butterflies, beetles, and other animals that spread pollen around from flower to flower—are responsible for creating one out of every three bites of food that we eat. So many fruits, vegetables, and nuts are pollinated by insects that I won’t even attempt to list them all. Don’t like fruits and vegetables, you macho types? Insects also pollinate alfalfa and clover, which are used to raise cows and other animals. No pollinators, no meat (or at least affordable meat).

Unfortunately, pollinators are in trouble. We’re changing the world in various ways so devastating to insects that though they can be highly adaptable, hearty creatures, they’re having a hard time keeping up. Honey bees, native bees, butterflies, flies, beetles—we need them all, the more variety the better, since if one species struggles, there will be others to pick up the slack.

So what can you do to help? First and foremost, take that itchy trigger finger off that bottle of insecticide. Even if you’re not willing to live with insects, there may be other, more sustainable ways to address your problem. Investigate green options to eliminate pests.

Second, plant nectar and pollen-producing plants, preferably native ones, whenever possible. The pollinators will love it, and your garden will be full of flowers. It’s a win-win.

Third, allow a little clutter in your yard. Pollinators are attracted to nectar and pollen, but they also need places to live and overwinter. Leaving a few bundles of twigs, a pile of leaves, or some patches of bare dirt behind can make a lot of difference. A perfectly manicured garden can be a barren wasteland to a pollinator. Cultivate a little wildness in your yard. You can even buy or construct insect houses to attract all different kinds of pollinators.

And fourth: come see us at the Zoo! We’ll be doing daily presentations about pollinators in the Insect House in Discovery Outpost at 11:30 each day. While you’re at the Zoo, check in on foursquare to receive a beautiful poster created to commemorate Pollinator Week. And stop in at the Mercado to pick up your poster and check out mason bee houses, native plants, and books about pollinators.

I hope I have convinced you to accept insects into your life. Whether you like it or not, they’re here to stay. And no matter how you feel about them, they are essential to our very survival—so let’s give them a hand!

Ester Chang is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo.