What sorts of pollinators are there?
Almost any insect that visits flowers can carry out pollination, and therefore classed as a ‘pollinator. Very conservative estimates suggest we have over 1500 pollinating insect species in Britain, thought the true figure is likely to be much higher. This includes bees, social and solitary wasps, adult parasitoid wasps, hoverflies and other flies, butterflies and moths and some beetles. Groups often seen on flowers are bees, flies, social, solitary and parasitoid wasps and beetles. Occasionally other insects such as lacewings and some true bugs may also be found on flowers.
Bees can be categorised into three broad groups;
- Bumblebees (Bombus spp.) are social bees. There are about 24 bumblebee species in Britain about 12 are commonly seen in gardens. At peak strength in midsummer, a bumblebee nest may contain between 50 and 400 bees, the nests last one season and usually queens overwinter.
- There are more than 260 species of solitary bee in Britain, some of which are rare confined to certain types of habitat. Garden solitary bees include some of the Andrena, Osmia, Megachile, Lasioglossum and Nomada species. Each female of these bees constructs and provisions a nest on her own and they have annual lifecycles. Many females of the same species often nest in close proximity to one another.
- The honeybee (Apis mellifera) is a social bee that forms large colonies that overwinter. It can be kept in hives and is the source of honey and beeswax. A strong honeybee colony may contain about 60,000 bees. Honeybees are not under threat and there are many hives maintained by beekeepers.
Social, solitary and parasitoid wasps
There are seven species of social wasps (including the hornet), and over 250 species of solitary wasp in Britain, whilst they are primarily predatory feeding their grubs on other insects the adults of many species will also visit flowers. It is estimated that there are more than 6,000 species of parasitoid wasp in Britain, most of these lay eggs inside other insects where the larvae feed eventually killing the host (parasites do not usually kill a host, hence the name parasitoid), a vital part of healthy ecosytems. Many adult parasitoid wasps will visit flowers.
There are more than 6,500 species of true fly (Diptera) in Britain many will visit flowers as adults. The often colourful hoverflies (Syrphidae) are one of the more familiar groups of fly that visit flowers, there are approximately 270 species found in Britain. The adults of many species mimic bees or wasps but none possess a sting. Many species visit flowers and they are important pollinators. The larva of hoverflies have different habits depending on the species, many such as the marmalade hoverfly, Episyrphus balteatus are predatory on aphids others have larvae that feed on decomposing organic matter such as the rat tailed maggots, Eristalis species (adults are known as drone flies), others such as the largest British hoverfly the hornet mimic Volucella zonaria are semi-parasitic in wasp and bee nests. A handful of species feed on living plant material including the bulb flies Merodon equestris, Eumerus strigatus and E. funeralis. The pollinating habits of the 1,000s of other fly species are less well known but are undoubtedly important and many flies are important decomposers, recyclers and predators as larvae, a vital part of healthy ecosystems.
Butterflies and moths
There are more than 2,500 species of Lepidoptera in Britain, less than 60 of these are butterflies. Some butterflies and many moths will visit garden flowers. For more information visit Moths in your garden and Butterflies in your garden.
There are approximately 4,500 species of beetle in Britain, they have a very wide range of habits as adults and larvae, some are often found on flowers as adults. These include including soldier beetles, which are predatory as larvae, the thick legged flower beetle which feeds in plants stems as a larvae, the colourful rose chafer which feeds on decomposing organic matter as a larva and longhorn beetles most of which are found in dead wood as larvae.
Additional information about other pollinator groups can be found in the supporting document for the National Pollinator Strategy.