Pollinators come in all shapes and sizes. At least 200,000 invertebrate species act as pollinators including bees, butterflies, moths, flies, beetles, and yes, even mosquitoes. (While the female mosquito is extracting blood to produce eggs, the males are extracting nectar.) There are an estimated 2,000 species of vertebrate pollinators. Hummingbirds and bats of course, but also surprises like doves, opossums, and lizards.
Pollinators provide indispensable ecological and economic benefits. Several species do both. The Mexican long nose bats pollinate both the saguaro cactus, which provides homes and food for a multitude of desert species, and the Agave, which supplies us with tequila for our margaritas. Globally, pollinators are important for the production of roughly 30 percent of the human diet, edible oils, fibers such as cotton and flax, alcoholic beverages, and medicines created from plants. In the US more than 150 food crops like almonds, apples, blueberries, tomatoes, and squash rely on pollinators. A lot of our favorite imports – like chocolate and coffee – too.
Insects are the dominate pollinators world wide, and bees are considered the most important. There are over 4000 species of bees in the US, and with a few exceptions they are wild bees native to the US. But despite this, when people hear “bee” most think of the honeybee. Honeybees were brought here from Europe in the seventeenth century as a crop pollinator and they have become the single most economically important pollinator in the US. Several estimates of the yearly agricultural services provided by pollinators exceed $15 billion. Pollination services provided by wild bees are also important and have been estimated at $3 billion per year.