Unexpectedly a butterfly flew around a group of preschoolers, repeatedly landing on one and then another. We had been outside on a hot day last week and were sweating underneath our sun screen lotion. What did the butterfly taste as it touched its proboscis to our skin? Hopefully nothing toxic! One child was extremely nervous about a close encounter with any insect but so proud of herself after she let it move from my arm onto her hand. Amazingly every child got a chance to have it on their hand as we gently encouraged the butterfly to move from one arm to the next hand to the next. The school has planted a pollinator garden with annual flowers and some native perennials such as the local variety of milkweed. This chance occurrence is the perfect opportunity to continue learning about pollinators and to celebrate Pollinator Week, June 19-25.
Yes, butterflies and many other animals can pollinate flowering plants. See if you can guess all the kinds of animals that pollinate plants in addition to insects (see the answer in an illustration by Paul Mirocha on the Forest Service Pollinators webpage).
I attended a discussion at the National Museum of Natural History where I learned about projects that are benefiting both people and pollinators in urban environments, including the Pollinator Partnership and the City of St. Louis’s Butterfly Project, “Milkweeds for Monarchs.” Pollinator Week was initiated by the Pollinator Partnership and it has now grown into “an international celebration of the valuable ecosystem services provided by bees, birds, butterflies, bats and beetles.” Governors often issue proclamations declaring the importance of pollinators to agriculture and economic development.
The Pollinator Partnership has information fact sheets about pollination for farmers, gardeners, and educators. The activities such as “How to Build a Pollinator Garden” include ideas to implement, such as, “A bowl with mud in the garden gives butterflies a place to drink and obtain minerals. (They need the mud in order to drink water, which they do through a process called “wicking”).” The website has a free Monarch Fueling Planting Guide for four East Coast regions.
Schools that have large areas of grass to mow (not including playing fields) might implement some of the modifications to maintenance recommended for roadsides to reduce costs while expanding habitat for pollinators—and providing an area for young scientists to observe pollinators in action. The modifications include planting or seeding native plants and reducing mowing.
I’m going to bring magnifiers out to the play area so children can look closely at the flowering plants to see what pollinators are landing on when they visit. If we see the somewhat slow moving bumblebees, we may even get to watch them work.