Beyond Bees

If you’re a bee you are 100% focussed on collecting pollen to feed to your young. This makes bees our most important pollinators, but not our only ones. Lots of other insects also visit flowers to feed on nectar. In doing so, these insects accidentally move some pollen around – just not so much or so deliberately. To help our non-bee pollinators we need to be more insect friendly. The more insects of all types, the more pollination!

Eristails in flight_Isobel Abbott
Eristalis hoverflies are known for their “rat-tailed” larvae which are aquatic, using their “tails” as a breathing apparatus. Image credit: Isobel Abbott. 

Hoverflies come second in the pollinating awards – this is mainly because some of them mimic bees, and being hairy like bees, pollen is more likely to stick to their bodies as they move from flower to flower. We have 180 hoverfly species in Ireland. Their larval stage varies greatly from species to species. Some live in the nests of other insects like bumblebees or wasps, some live in water, some in dung and some in plant stems.

Volucella pellucens on Dog Daisy_Rosaleen Dwyer
Volucella pellucens lay their eggs in the nests of common wasps (Vespula vulgaris and germanica), without wasps, therefore, we would lose this rather gorgeous hoverfly. Image credit: Rosaleen Dwyer.

Given the complexity of different lifecycles in our non-bee pollinators, it’s much harder to identify specific actions that will have a big impact. However, if you allow your garden, school, campus or local area to be a place that is insect friendly you can’t go wrong. Unlike us, they’re not so keen on order and neatness. Avoid spraying chemicals. Don’t cut the grass so often so that they have more wildflowers to feed on. Have wild areas with nettles where butterfly and moth caterpillars can live. Have log piles where ladybirds and beetles can shelter. Ponds, however tiny, can provide excellent habitat. We find it easy to see beauty in individual bits of nature. If we could better see the beauty in the whole complex, fascinating and untidy mess we’d all be better off!

Dr Úna FitzPatrick did both her undergraduate degree and PhD at Trinity. She is the Project co-ordinator for the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan at the National Biodiversity Data Centre.

Common Blue (Liam Lysaght)


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