8 Types of Pollinators that Visit the Garden


Containers filled with pollinator-pleasing plants will bring an assortment of fascinating creatures to your yard. From the portfolio of nature photographer Bill Johnson, let’s take a look at some of the pollinator types you are most likely to see. Learn how you can garden for pollinators, whether you have a large garden or small.

Domesticated Honeybees 

Honeybees are the familiar foragers often found near agricultural areas and hobbyists’ hives; colonies occasionally escape into the wild.

  • ID tips: Honeybees have fuzzy, oval-shaped bodies with a less narrow “waist” between the thorax and the abdomen than wasps and most other bees have.
  • Notable species: European honeybee
  • Favorite flower types: Shallow or tubular shapes, preferably with a landing area, in bright white, blue, or yellow
Wild bees
Photo: Bill Johnson

Wild bees

Wild bees are very diverse, with nearly 4,000 North American ­native species. Almost all are solitary rather than social nesters.

  • ID tips: Bees typically have fuzzy bodies that range from metallic green or blue to brown or black, sometimes striped with yellow, white, or red.
  • Notable species: Bumblebees, orchard bees, carpenter bees, sweat bees, mason bees, and leafcutter bees (pictured)
  • Favorite flower types: Shallow or tubular shapes, preferably with a landing area, that are blue, purple, white, orange, or yellow
Wasps
Photo: Bill Johnson

Wasps

You might be surprised to learn that visit wasps are also pollinators! They often visit flowers mainly in search of nectar and insect prey; however, they can sometimes be very effective pollinators.

  • ID tips: Wasps are typically smooth, not fuzzy, with a pointed lower abdomen and a narrow waist between the abdomen and the thorax.
  • Notable species: There are about 18,000 North American species, including paper wasps, yellow jackets, mud daubers (pictured), thread-waisted wasps, and tiny Trichogrammas.
  • Favorite flower types: Shallow, nectar-rich flowers, often with dull colors or unusual scents
Butterflies
Photo: Bill Johnson

Butterflies

Butterflies have long legs and tongues that keep them from picking up as much pollen as bees, but they can be surprisingly efficient pollinators.

  • ID tips: Most butterflies land and rest with their wings folded together vertically over their bodies, while moths tend to rest with their wings open and flat.
  • Notable species: There are several hundred North American species, including skippers, blues, swallowtails (pictured), hairstreaks, sulphurs, and brush-footed species.
  • Favorite flower types: Bright red or purple with deep, tubular shapes, abundant nectar, and wide landing pads
Moths
Photo: Bill Johnson

Moths

Moths are underappreciated pollinators, since many feed only at night. However, some moths fly by day, such as the snowberry clearwing (pictured).

  • ID tips: Nearly all moths rest with their wings open and flat, while butterflies tend to hold theirs upright.
  • Notable species: There are about 20,000 North American moth species, including hawk moths, sphinx moths, tussock moths, daggers, and luna moths.
  • Favorite flower types: White, pink, purple, or pale red; sweetly fragrant, with ample, deeply hidden nectar
Flies
Photo: Bill Johnson

Flies

Flies are another extremely large, varied, and underappreciated pollinator group. Some species have markings similar to those of bees or wasps that deter predators.

  • ID tips: Flies have two wings instead of four, and most have extremely large eyes that come together at the top of the head.
  • Notable species: Hoverflies, robber flies, bee flies (pictured), flower flies, syrphid flies, and tachnids
  • Favorite flower types: Shallow or funnel-like shapes that are pale, dark brown, or purple, sometimes with a putrid odor
Hummingbirds
Photo: Bill Johnson

Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are always on the move. Each bird drinks up to twice its weight in nectar each day, transporting pollen between plants as it feeds.

  • ID tips: Hummingbirds are easily identified by their small size, long, tapered beaks, and ability to hover in flight.
  • Notable species: There are only a handful of North American species, including ruby-throated, broad-tailed, rufous, Anna’s, Costa’s, and black-chinned hummingbirds.
  • Favorite flower types: Colorful, tubular flowers with abundant nectar
Beetles
Photo: Bill Johnson

Beetles

Beetles are one of the oldest pollinator groups on earth. Some chew through flower petals, leaving waste behind, and are called “mess and soil” pollinators.

  • ID tips: Beetles have hard wing coverings that are folded back in flight and sharp mandibles on the underside of the head.
  • Notable species: Soldier beetles, scarabs, long-horned beetles, checkered beetles, sap beetles, and lady beetles (pictured)
  • Favorite flower types: Large, bowl-shaped blooms with ample pollen and strong scents that are sweet, musky, spicy, fruity, or putrid

Sarah Partyka is the owner of The Farmer’s Daughter, a garden center in South Kingstown, Rhode Island.





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