The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Native pollinators

Swallowtail butterflyOutside the kitchen window, our peach tree is buzzing with pollinators.  I can see hundreds of insects at a time, but they fly too quickly to really count.  Despite having three honeybee hives, our domesticated pollinators make up a scant 1% of the peach tree pollinator haze, and other gaudy pollinators like butterflies and bumblebees are also in the minority. 

I spent a few minutes last week snapping shot after shot of the vibrant insect population on the peach tree, then went inside to try to figure out who all of these wild pollinators were.  That's when I stumbled across Bug Guide, a website run by amateur entomologists who want to share their love of insects with you.  You can browse through their online guide, which is chock Bumblebeefull of photos and fascinating information.  Then, when you get stumped, you can submit photos of your mystery insects and their experts will give you an ID, often within an hour or two.

This week's lunchtime series showcases four common pollinators that you've probably never heard of.  I hadn't heard of most of them either, and had to ask the experts at Bug Guide for a bit of identification help.  I make no promises that these are the most common pollinators out there --- in fact, the take home message I got from my time spent peering at peach blossoms is that there are dozens of species of native pollinators and no single insect is the silver bullet to make sure your plants produce fruit.  Rather than focusing on saving the honeybee, we'd be much better served to encourage a diversity of wild pollinator species by keeping our farms and gardens on the wild side.

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Learn to keep bugs at bayThis post is part of our Native Pollinators lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I have a real difficult time telling the difference between carpenter bees and bumble bees. Do we have them both around here? Is one more aggressive than the other? We have dozens of them in our yard buzzing around our flowering plants, but I don't know which ones they are. They don't seem human-aggressive at all, but they do chase each other and other insects.
Comment by Everett Thu Apr 15 11:14:01 2010
The large version of carpenter bees which look like bumblebees have a much less hairy abdomen. Carpenter bees, in my limited experience, seem a lot more interested in people --- they buzz around me a lot, although I've only been stung once by them and don't recall it being very painful. They can be a pain, though, when they chew big holes in your porch... :-)
Comment by anna Thu Apr 15 12:17:07 2010

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