What is pollination?
Pollination is an important part of plant reproduction. It is the process of transferring pollen between plants. Pollen is a fine powdery substance produced by the stamen, or male part of a plant that is found in the flower. The seeds germinate when the pollen is transferred to the pistil (the female part). This unit is a great way to teach the importance of pollination and all about pollinators for kids!
Pollen comes in a variety of colors. Most people think of it as yellow but it can also come in bright shades of red, purple, white, and even brown.
Almost all seed-bearing plants require pollination in order to reproduce. Some are called self-pollinators because they produce their own pollen and it is transferred by movement or wind to the pistil in the same flower.
But most plants require a pollinator to transfer the pollen. So plants produce nectar to attract pollinators. When a pollinator feeds on the nectar in the flower, bits of pollen stick to their legs, beaks, or other body parts. They then carry that pollen to another plant or flower and the pollen falls off onto the pistil. This is pollination made possible by a pollinator.
Here in the United States, pollinators are an important part of our food crop production. Crops like blueberries and cherries are totally dependent on bees for pollination.
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Check out our honey bee activity pages, too!
Pollinators for Kids – Types of pollinators
There are many different types of pollinators around the world. But the most common ones are listed below.
Bees & Wasps
Bees – especially honey bees – are the most important pollinator in the world. Honey bees pollinate between 1.2 and 5.4 billion dollars worth of agricultural crops here in the U.S. alone. Their body structure and natural behaviors make them the perfect pollinator.
Honey bees have fine hair-like fuzz all over their bodies that attracts and collects pollen. In fact, they even have special “pockets” on their legs where they store pollen to carry it back to the hive. Bees eat pollen. It is their only source of protein and it is very important for rearing baby bees.
Bees don’t make honey from pollen. They make honey from the nectar that they collect at each flower. And flowers produce nectar to attract pollinators such as bees.
Other bees and wasps also pollinate flowers, but they are usually solitary insects that don’t live in groups. And like honey bees, they often focus on one particular flower group at a time, so they are excellent pollinators.
Butterflies & Moths
Butterflies and moths are not as efficient at pollinating as bees, but they certainly do their fair share. These beautiful insects prefer flowers that have a landing pad, called a labellum. And although they do collect some pollen on their long, spindly legs, they also help with self-pollination as they move about the flower searching for nectar.
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Butterflies are diurnal, so they pollinate flowers during the day. Moths take over at night and pollinate night-blooming flowers.
Birds are another important pollinator. Hummingbirds are especially productive as they feed almost constantly on nectar throughout the day. Their long bills are adapted to feed from long tube-like flowers. Pollen falls off and collects not only on their beaks but on the fine feathers around their face and head, too. It has a great chance of being deposited on a similar flower since hummingbirds typically will visit each flower on a shrub, vine, or plant before moving on.
Who would have thought of bats as being big pollinators? But they are! They usually feed on night-blooming flowers that are big, white, and very fragrant. They even pollinate cactus flowers in the desert. Not only do they drink the nectar that the plant produces, but they also feed on the insects found on the flowers. All this bumbling around in the flower petals guarantees pollination. In fact, more than 500 plant species rely on bats for pollination including bananas, mangoes, and agave plants.
Beetles & Other Insects
Bees may be considered the most important pollinators in the world because of the impact they have on food crops. But beetles are the most abundant type of pollinator in the world, if only because there are so many different types of them! Scientists have found evidence that shows beetles as being one of the earliest pollinators in earth’s history. Today, beetles continue to pollinate nearly 90% of the 240,000 flowering plants around the world!
They favor large bowl-shaped flowers with strong smells and little color. But beetles are not big nectar feeders. Instead, they eat the pollen and the flower petals themselves. So plants that rely on beetle pollinators usually produce a lot of pollen so that there is enough left over after the insects have eaten their fill.
Activities for learning about pollination and pollinators
Help your kids learn more about this process with the following activities:
We’ve identified the most recognized pollinators in this article. Put what you’ve learned to the test!
Activity: Print our Pollinator I Spy activity sheet and have your child color in the pollinators.
Craft: Make a honeybee from a paper bowl!
Flowers are a plant’s way of reproducing. Give your child a hands-on activity to understand the different parts of a flower. Squeamish about dissections? You don’t have to be with this flower dissection activity!
Activity: First, have your child go outside and collect some flowers from your garden, or go on a walk/nature hike and find some flowers for the activity. Next, print our Parts of a Flower Dissection Activity pages. It’s okay to use tweezers and scissors to carefully peel back petals depending on the type of flower(s) collected.
Drawing and Writing
Time for some research! Crack open books or let your child do some research online to learn about the life cycles of our pollinator species. Here are some safe and kid-friendly websites to visit and learn more:
Activity: Download our Pollinator Life Cycle pages. Younger children can use the first two pages to simply draw the different life stages of a bee or butterfly. Older children can use the last two pages to write about the life cycles of hummingbirds and bats.