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Pollinator gardens increase interest in insects


  • By Winston Skinner
  • |
  • Aug. 12, 2018 - 7:46 AM

 Pollinator gardens increase interest in insects

The Newnan Times-Herald

Keeping an eye out for butterflies and other pollinators at the pollinator garden on Carmichael Street are, from left, Moriah and Miriam Wyman and Olivia Westergreen.

It had just rained Thursday afternoon as three Newnan girls began to explore the pollinator garden on Carmichael Street.

Miriam Wyman, 9, and her sister Moriah Wyman, 7, poked around among the flowers and shrubs along with Olivia Westergreen, who is almost 7. All three were fascinated by the tiny butterflies flitting from bloom to bloom.

Miriam read the informational sign at the garden, explaining to the younger girls the importance of bees, butterflies – even bats – in pollinating flowers.

The increase in pollinator gardens is doing more than teaching youngsters the vital role that pollinators play in the food chain. “Backyard insect-watching has become a popular pastime thanks to the public’s increased interest in pollinator health and habitats,” according to Becky Griffin, an educational program specialist with the University of Georgia Extension in Cobb County.

“Gardeners enjoy seeing insects visit their gardens. Learning about the types of the bees and the wing colors of migrating butterflies can enrich the pollinator experience in the home garden,” Griffin said.

To get the best view of insect activity, Griffin suggested monitoring them on a warm, sunny day.

“Insects fly more readily when the sun is shining,” she said. “Place a chair near the garden, grab a cool drink and enjoy the show.”

She noted the zoom feature on many cellular telephones can also be used as a magnifier. “Zooming in on small wings or compound eyes,” Griffin said, “can be fascinating.”

A pollinator habitat full of different types of flowers of varying shapes, colors and heights will attract a wide variety of insects. 

Carpenter bees have shiny abdomens, and southern carpenter bees can be spotted because of their wings that appear to be metallic blue, Griffin said.

Honeybees will fly miles from their hive looking for flowers.

Griffin said there are smaller bees in many pollinator gardens.

“Some native bees, like orchard bees, are metallic in color and are fun to spot,” Griffin said. “Leafcutter bees gather pollen using hairs on the undersides of their abdomens. They are the bees with a bright orange, white or even green undercoat.”

Fuzzy bumblebees extract pollen from the flower through what’s called “buzz pollination” — they vibrate their bodies to get the most pollen from each bloom.  

“Bee mimics, or flower flies, are often found in pollinator habitats. These are actually flies with coloring that resembles the coloring of bees. The flies have little antennae and their eyes are often larger and closer together than a bee’s eyes,” Griffin said.

For simple reference, flies only have one pair of wings while bees have two pairs. “This is hard to notice when the insects are darting about,” Griffin said.

Pollinator habitats also attract predators looking to eat a pollinator for dinner.

“Praying mantis and ambush bugs often hang out in the flowers looking to capture an insect or two. Parasitic wasps also visit flowers, so you might find them in your pollinator habitat. These beneficial wasps are powerhouses in the vegetable garden as they help control insect pests,” Griffin said.

Griffin said insect-watching can be a fun family activity. “Teaching the next generation to appreciate these insects leads to responsible pollinator stewardship,” she said.

The Wyman sisters and Olivia Westergreen said they had learned about the role pollinators play before visiting the Carmichael Street garden.

Cowetans can have their gardens certified as a Georgia Pollinator Space. For information, visit www.ugaurbanag.com/pollinators . Individuals who follow the four steps on the website will receive a certificate.