Monarch butterfly Autumn 2018 Weatherly farm

A Monarch butterfly feeds on a blossom in southern Custer County in this photo from autumn, 2018.

Some have wings, some don’t.  Some crawl about, some don’t.  Bees, butterflies, wasps and even ants do an important job.  This week, Nebraska is celebrating that job and the insects that do it.  June 22-28, 2020 is Nebraska Pollinator Week.

Nebraska Pollinator Week celebrates pollinator species. Not only is their job to pollinate many foods, but they also ensure our native ecosystems remain healthy and productive.  Pollinator week is about educating everyone about their current peril and helping Nebraskans understand how to help pollinator species across the state.

Why celebrate?  Well, pollination by flying insects sustains global agriculture and ecosystems.  Pollination is the process through which pollen is transferred from the male to the female receptors of the plant. Not all flowers require an animal or the wind to help with the pollination process, since some plants can self-pollinate.   However, an estimated 80 percent of flowering plants do depend on external factors (animals or wind) to pollinate.

In terms of agriculture around the globe, its estimated that 35 percent of crops are dependent on pollinators.  That means a third of all human food requires insects for its pollination process.  Similarly, 70 percent of the main crops grown for global human consumption require pollination to increase crop yields and to produce seeds. Around the world, crop pollination by bees is estimated to be worth $170 billion per year.  In Europe alone, bee pollination has an estimated value of $22 billion per year.

Across the United States, honeybees alone generate around $15 billion by providing the fruits, nuts, and vegetables that consumed every day.  In addition, crops dependent on native insect pollination, like the bumblebee or the alfalfa leafcutter, account for more than $9 billion each year.

Pollinator protection is a concern for many state agencies, including the Nebraska Department of Transportation (NDOT).  At road projects, NDOT plants mixtures of approximately 10-20% native wildflower seed, by weight. Species planted are suited to that region of Nebraska and may serve as food and habitat for pollinators. NDOT has also funded a research project with the University of Nebraska to investigate wildflower islands (areas of dense wildflower seeding) and their effect on pollinating species populations.

The Nebraska Game and Parks Commission believes their conservation efforts for monarch butterflies can help numerous other pollinators as well. There are at least 18 insect pollinators that are at-risk in Nebraska. These are beneficial insects, including butterflies, moths, and bumble bees.   The NGPC’s Nebraska Natural Legacy Project seeks to conserve them not only because they are part of the state’s native biodiversity, but also because these pollinators provide valuable ecosystem services.

You can celebrate Nebraska Pollinator Week too.  Most events in 2020 are virtual (on the computer) thanks to COVID-19.  Find out more at https://www.nebraskapollinatorweek.org/events-by-date.

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