do dragonflies pollinate

Do Dragonflies Pollinate: Uncovering the Surprising Role of These High-Flying Insects

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Darting dragonflies are a familiar summer sight around lakes and ponds. But did you know these acrobatic insects also contribute to pollination?

Pollinators like bees, butterflies and hummingbirds are well-known. Yet dragonflies also transport some pollen between flowers. They are not efficient specialized pollinators, but still facilitate incidental gene transfer between plants.

Certain flowers likely co-evolved with dragonflies as pollination partners. Let’s explore how they creatively tap into dragonfly flights to disperse pollen!

Do Dragonflies Pollinate – How Dragonflies Contribute to Pollen Transport

Dragonflies incidentally move pollen between blooms due to their:

  • Primary focus on snatching insect prey rather than gathering nectar methodically from flowers
  • Lack of specialized pollen-carrying structures many bees feature
  • Status as pollen generalists not dependent on any particular blossom

During territorial skirmishes, mating pursuits, aggressive defense of breeding sites, shelter seeking and other behaviors, dragonflies casually alight on vegetation. Legs, wings and bodies inadvertently contact pollen grains.

These unintentional grain pickups brush off later across other site visits. While haphazard and irregular, some plants capitalize on such messy transmission.

do dragonflies pollinate
do dragonflies pollinate

Swarm Multipliers

Individual dragonflies distribute almost negligible amounts of pollen. However mass seasonal movements involving millions of migrating or swarming individuals likely achieve substantial cumulative pollen redistribution.

Long-Distance Dispersion

A few dragonfly species like globe skimmers (Pantala flavescens) complete incredible transcontinental migrations. As these weary long-haul fliers rest intermittently, they may leave pollen far from its origin. Such epic migrations likely spread plant genes across unfathomable distances no other insect couriers traverse.

Flowers Adapted For Dragonfly Pollination

A few specialized blossoms seem tailored to dragonfly flight habits and behaviors:

Cardinal Flower

Brilliant red cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) spikes blooming from July through September attract soaring dragonflies patrolling wet meadows and marshy areas. Their color, exposed orientation, sturdy landing platforms and abundance in prime dragonfly habitat suit these airborne wanderers.

While hummingbirds also appreciate cardinal nectar supplements, some research suggests dragonflies were the original specialized pollinators. Adaptations accommodating their particular body configuration and flight style reinforce this partnership over time.

Pickerel Weed

Another summer-blooming aquatic plant – Pontederia cordata or pickerel weed – lures wandering dragonflies to stop by its violet-blue flower clusters. Abundant nectar entices refueling after lengthy dragonfly hunting forays over neighboring water bodies.

As they probe the blooms for sustenance, pickerel weed’s prominent stamens dust visiting dragonflies with sticky grains. The flower relies on these errant pollen couriers returning later to fertilize other distant plants.

Swamp Milkweed

Vivid pink swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) inhabits marshy zones teeming with dragonflies. Like other specialized milkweeds, its complex blossom structure matches a dragonfly’s leg span perfectly. As they wander inside, movable pollen sacs attach to their limbs.

Later visits to different swamp milkweed patches results in pollen redistribution far exceeding what small local insect residents achieve. Dragonflies help this milkweed colonize isolated wet sites. Their far-flung hunger-driven hunting sorties spread genetic diversity broadly.

When Do Dragonflies Distribute the Most Pollen?

Seasonal activities involving huge dragonfly aggregations create peak pollen transport times:

Spring/Fall Migration Swarms – Mass relocations along flyway corridors likely achieve significant cumulative pollen spread. Exhausted migrants pause along the journey to refuel, depositing pollen grains picked up from earlier resting points.

Summer Breeding Congregations – Swarming, courtships, territorial fights, egg-laying etc. temporarily concentrate large local dragonfly populations. More activity and flower visitations get pollen circulating rapidly during these seasonal booms.

Beyond these short-term frenzied interactions, individual dragonflies contribute only minor sustaining, localized pollination among favored wetland plants. Their specialized adaptations for aerial hunting limit systematic flower visitations.

do dragonflies pollinate
do dragonflies pollinate

Why Bees Still Reign Supreme

Dragonflies fall short of highly evolved specialist pollinators like bees for several reasons:

Bee AdvantagesDragonfly Challenges
Ultra-fine hairy pollen basketsSmooth, bare bodies
Nectar-sucking tubes access deepest flowersShort chewing mouthparts only skim surface nectar
Actively gather and transport pollenPassively Contact random pollen
Loyally focus efforts on single bloom typesVisit wide assortment of flowers inconsistently
Centralized and social lifestylesSolo existence except brief seasonal encounters
100+ million managed US honey bee hivesNo stable or concentrated populations

As beloved honeybees demonstrate, modern agriculture depends on highly efficient pollen transfer between specialized plant partners. Solitary generalist dragonflies can’t replace this tight co-evolution.

However, a few ancestral flowers still utilize these unorthodox couriers. And dragonflies likely acted as original pollination pioneers for some species before bees dominated this realm! Their contributions now supplement more famous pollen transfer experts.

Valuing Every Pollinator – Even Dragonflies!

While small compared to meticulous bee propagation, dragonfly pollination still matters. Their inadvertent blossom-to-blossom flights highlight the diversity underlying natural pollination networks.

We need to protect all pollinators – native bees, wasps, beetles, butterflies etc. These supporting ecological roles buffer against disease outbreaks, population declines or habitat disruptions threatening European honeybees.

Dragonflies pollinating plants for 300 million years reinforce that connections between multiple fliers, crawlers, hoppers and creatures keeps botanical worlds renewing. Consider thanking them next time one flies past! Even “nuisance” mosquito hawks contribute.

FAQs – Do Dragonflies Pollinate

Do dragonflies pollinate flowers?

Yes, dragonflies do contribute to pollination, although they are not as efficient as bees or other specialized pollinators. As dragonflies feed on nectar or rest on plants, they inadvertently pick up and transport pollen grains on their wings, legs and bodies. Some flowers even seem adapted to take advantage of dragonfly pollination.

How do dragonflies help with pollination?

What flowers use dragonflies for pollination?

When are dragonflies most active as pollinators?

Why can’t dragonflies replace bee pollination?

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