Beneficial insects

Let’s Encourage Pollinators… and Not Just Honeybees!

In recent years, the decline of bees has awakened our collective environmental conscience to the danger of pesticides, but most people think of honeybees. We’re concerned about the impact on honey production, but also on the pollination of our fruit trees and other field crops that rent hives during the flowering of their crops.

Those most interested in this decline know that there are also native bees that are specific to each region, but most people think that all bees look alike, live in colonies, produce honey and can sting if disturbed. In fact, there are some 860 species of native bees in Canada, some with colors that differ from yellow and black, most of which don’t sting, are often solitary and none of which produce honey. But they all make an important contribution to pollination, provided they are given the right habitats.

Seeing my friend Gilles Arbour’s magnificent photos inspired me to raise your awareness of the great diversity of pollinating species and the importance of providing them with sources of nectar and pollen from spring through to late autumn.

Honey bees are the best-known pollinators. Honey bee (Apis mellifera) on crocus. Photo: Gilles Arbour
But there are plenty of native bees that are just as effective. Fever bumblebee (Bombus impatiens) on anemone. Photo: Gilles Arbour

Incredible Diversity

In addition to honeybees and native bees, including bumblebees, there are a host of other insects capable of pollinating flowers, including flies such as hoverflies and bomb flies, wasps, butterflies, beetles, ants and more. All need flowers throughout the growing season, and some have a marked preference for native plants. Just think of the monarch butterfly, whose caterpillars eat only milkweed.

Le monarque est un pollinisateur
Monarch (Danaus plexippus). Photo: Gilles Arbour

Favorable Environments

In rural areas: roadside verges, ditches and flower strips at the edge of fields are ideal environments for attracting pollinators, provided of course that there is no pesticide application or early mowing.

Windbreaks have a very positive effect on wind reduction in agricultural environments, and if they are diversified, they can also offer all kinds of flowers at different seasons and also cavities or hollow stems to hide in.

In urban environments: green spaces, islands of greenery and, above all, flowerbeds whose flowering period extends throughout the summer are of great interest to pollinators. Ideally, there should be connectivity between the various flowering areas and lawns with plant diversity.

Some magnificent photos by Gilles Arbour showing the incredible diversity of the world of pollinators:

Bee fly (Geron calvus). Photo: Gilles Arbour
Greater Bombyl (Bombylius major) on dandelion. Photo: Gilles Arbour
Hummingbird clearwing (Hemaris thysbe). Photo: Gilles Arbour
Pure Green Sweat Bee (Augochlora pura). Photo: Gilles Arbour
Plasterer bee (Colletes sp.) on scilla flower. Photo: Gilles Arbour
Cluster fly (Pollenia sp.) on crocus.Photo: Gilles Arbour
Margined calligrapher fly (Toxomerus marginatus)on chicory flower. Photo: Gilles Arbour
Asian ladybug (Harmonia axyridis) on forsythia. Photo: Gilles Arbour
Fourmi est un pollinisateur
Ant on forsythia. Photo: Gilles Arbour

Sites de nidification

Most pollinating insects need cavities and undisturbed soil to nest in for part of their lives. Insect nesting boxes have been appearing in urban parks and even in some shops. These nesting boxes can be made from a variety of materials, with holes of varying depth and diameter, but closed at one end. However, these installations need to be maintained, cleaned or replaced frequently, as they can also attract parasites or infections.

Personally, I prefer to create pollinator-friendly habitats with a wide variety of flowers throughout the year and let the insects choose where to live, without doing too much “cleaning” in my garden.

About Gilles Arbour

Gilles Arbour is a naturalist photographer in great demand. He is widely recognized not only in Quebec, but also in Canada and internationally. He has contributed to a number of books, scientific articles and North American guidebooks, including “Les araignées du Québec” (The Spiders of Québec) with Pierre Paquin, to be published this fall by Natureweb.. His mission is to help develop a visceral attachment to nature by exposing the public to the biodiversity of what’s around us.

Edith Smeesters is a biologist and a pioneer in ecological horticulture in Quebec. She has given countless conferences and workshops and written several books on the subject for over 20 years. She founded and has been president of several environmental organizations, such as Nature-Action Québec and the Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides. She was a key figure in the creation of the Pesticide Management Code of Quebec, which has been in effect since 2003. She has received several awards for her involvement in the environment and is a member of the prestigious "Cercle des Phénix".

4 comments on “Let’s Encourage Pollinators… and Not Just Honeybees!

  1. Ann T Dubas

    In our garden in Virginia, the native mountain mint attracts a beautiful wasp that I never saw before we established those plants. They absolutely swarm the plants. There are several varieties of mountain mints and they’re very attractive plants. We have introduced many native plants into our little patch of former hay field. We never clean our gardens in the fall. We’re just doing it now. We have lots of pollinators and birds. Sadly also a lot of ticks. The steady increase in ferns, jack in the pulpit, skunk cabbage and other aquatic plants along the creek is so exciting as are the May apples in the bordering woodland. The battle against invasive plants never ends but it’s a war worth waging.


    When will humans get over believing they need to constantly mow, weed, plant unnatural landscapes and otherwise control and manipulate our environment thereby polluting and destroying our world? The arrogance of it all!

  3. Faith Anderson

    Hi Edith,
    Great article on an important subject. Here in Australia we have native bees, like the blue banded bee and some that don’t sting. In the UK Sir David Attenborough is encouraging people not to mow lawns throughout May and hopefully not until mid-July as this is an important time for pollinators to find food and procreate. Would No Mow May be helpful in your region, I wonder.

    • Mathieu Hodgson

      In Quebec, we have our own version of No Mow May, “Défi Pissenlits” which encourages people and municipalities to delay mowing until dandelions have finished flowering. As its colder here than in other areas, they haven’t started flowering until recently in warmer zones. For us, it’s more of a no mow end of May and early June.

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