Happy National Pollinator Week! While not an official holiday, it’s certainly worth celebrating. Animal pollinators – such as bees, moths, hummingbirds, ants, butterflies, wasps, beetles and flies – are an essential link in agriculture, helping pollinate crops and trees that produce fruits, vegetables, nuts and herbs we eat and drink (if you enjoyed a cup of coffee this morning, you have a pollinator to thank!).
Pollinators are critical to our food supply as about 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on them to reproduce. Said another way, one out of every three bites of food we eat exists because of a pollinator.
Let’s take a look at some interesting facts about one group of pollinators: Lepidoptera.
Now that you’ve learned more about caterpillars, moths and butterflies, why not head outside and see if you can find some. Since you can’t visit the Pollinator Garden we planted in 2017 thanks to support from Dominion Energy, spend some time in your backyard or go for a walk around the neighborhood looking for various lepidoptera. And guess what … making those observations has a name and, if you record them, can help scientists!
Phenology is the study of cycles in plants and animals throughout time. You, most likely, have been observing phenology for years without ever realizing it. Watching caterpillars munch on leaves that then turn into butterflies that skip from flower to flower is phenology.
Scientists can’t be everywhere all the time, so they access phenology data through records collected by the general public. This is called citizen science. If you’re outside observing phenology, you can add what you see to databases that serve as an important resource to scientists across the globe as they monitor invasive species, changes in climate, crop harvests and allergy seasons, to name a few.
The Journey North program through the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum is one of the largest citizen science programs in North America. That site allows the public to report sightings of various flora and fauna, including monarch butterflies, a species that has seen drastic population decline in recent decades. If you notice monarchs in your area, enter those observations at https://journeynorth.org.
You can also download the iNaturalist app (or visit https://www.inaturalist.org) to participate in a collaborative effort to document local biodiversity. Explore the natural world, including caterpillars, moths and butterflies, and share your observations by snapping a picture and easily uploading it to the app.
If you want to go one step further, consider planting some native host and nectar plants. We have some tips in this infographic we created when we planted the Dominion Energy Pollinator Garden: https://smv.org/storage/app/media/VaNativePlants.jpg. Ensuring these resources are available for butterflies and moths will greatly increase your chances of observing lepidoptera in your area, giving you plenty of citizen science data to share, not to mention a new appreciation for the beauty of those insects.
We can’t think of a better way to spend Pollinator Week than by discovering connections to science all around us and being inspired to contribute to more scientific understanding!
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