Pollinator Week takes place all over the world from June 17 to 23, 2019. (Pollinator.org)

Did you know mosquitoes and bats were pollinators?

This week is Pollinator Week in Canada but also in the rest of the world. The celebration has been going on for more than 10 years now and it aims at focusing everyone’s attention on the important role that pollinators play in our lives and in our environment.

It also aims at spreading the word about what we can do to protect those animals.

To understand exactly what pollinator week is, we spoke to Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada.

Bees are not the only pollinators. (Anthony Colangelo/Pollinator Partnership)

What’s pollinator week?

This celebration officially started twelve years ago with the U.S. Senate’s unanimous approval and designation of a week in June as “National Pollinator Week”.

It started as an awareness effort focused on policy makers in the United States. The goal was to get bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., to pay attention to pollinators and think of that when they’re building policies.Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada

But it quickly gained momentum. Soon it included public activities and initiatives from across North America because pollinators do not have political boundaries, as Wojcik explains:

[Pollinators] exist throughout ecosystems which intersect political boundaries and we’ve been working with Canada, the U.S. and Mexico as a North American effort to conserve pollinators.Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada

Today, the celebration even crossed oceans. For the 2019 edition, events are being organised in Bermuda, China, Europe and Africa, for example.

But most of them are still held in North America. This initiative within the non-profit sector is widely considered a model in Asia, Africa and Asia.

What happens during Pollinators week is often a lot of really great fun and awareness activities.Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada

All events are on an interactive map. Take a look to see if anything is happening near you in the next few days.

Click on the map to see if an event is happening near you. (Screenshot from Pollinator.org)

For example, the director of Pollinator Partnership Canada talks about pollinator and bee safaris at the Edmonton Valley Zoo, in Toronto or at the Memorial University of Newfoundland Botanical Garden.
A “bee safari” is a pollinator identification walk where a biologist or a scientist takes a group of people for a walk in a botanical garden or somewhere else and they identify bees.

Really similar smaller scale model as if you would just get into a jeep in a safari and hope that you find some zebra and some giraffes, here we’re looking for bumblebees and monarch butterflies and all of that.Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada

Did you know it’s pollinator week? The Edmonton Valley Zoo is home to two honeybee hives as well as several bee hotels…

Posted by Edmonton Valley Zoo on Monday, June 17, 2019

Among the events, there are many gardening associations and groups across the country that have also opened garden tours as well as native plants planting days and this year’s edition has a special aspect to it as Wojcik explains.

We actually have a couple of restaurants, bars and other food vendors hosting special events that highlight the important role that pollinators have in our food. One of every three bite that we eat is the result of a pollinator so our diet will not look the same without them.Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada

Everyone can host its own event by registering it to the pollinator.ca or pollinator.org.

Pollinators can be bees but also bats or mosquitoes

When we think of pollinators, we usually think of bees, but many animals act as pollenizers. The Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada defines pollinators.

A pollinator is any animal that would visit a flower and transfer the pollen from one flower to another, helping that plant reproduce. […] They basically help more than 80% of the flowering plants that you see in our landscape reproduce.Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada

The importance of these animals is such that if they disappear, almost all of the plants that we see in our landscape would disappear overtime.

If we look at the different pollinators, bees are ranked first for a variety of reasons. “One of which is that they’re quite hairy and they grab a lot of pollen. It sticks to them very well and they do the best job moving it”, explains Wojcik.

Even Mosquitoes are pollinators. (Jazeel Jaz/Unsplash)

Other than bees, the majority of pollinators are insects like flies, butterflies, moths, beetles and even … mosquitoes!

It depends on the species and the ecosystem. So actually if you go further north into Canada and into some of the wetlands, mosquitoes do become pollinators. They are actually pollinators of orchids and other really tiny little plants in wetland areas.Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada

“Even though the other half of their life cycle includes feeding out of us, they do help some plants to reproduce,” says Wojcik laughing.

Pollinators also include vertebrates such as hummingbirds and bats. However, there are no pollinating bat species in Canada, as they are limited to the southern United States and Mexico.

Vicki Wojcik explains what is a pollinator (Photo: Anthony Colangelo/Pollinator Partnership)
Pollinators need your help

Pollinator Week is also about educating people on how to help preserve these animals.

One of the biggest challenges they face is a lack of quality habitat.

For them, habitat is primarily plants that they can feed off and also the space in which to make a nest or where they lay their eggs.Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada

The best way to help pollinators is to create a habitat yourself in your own garden or in a community’s one. The best habitat is local native plants such as wildflowers.

If you don’t have access to a garden, you can simply support farmers who work in a pollinator sustainable way. They are usually mindful of their use of pesticides, and they also manage their landscape to include additional plants.

Finally, you can support actions creating more habitat or organisation making efforts for pollinators.

Vicki explains what we can do to help pollinators. (Kyle Peyton/Unsplash)
Risks to pollinators

In terms of mortality, pesticides have a direct link with pollinators, but the main question is not what kills them, explains Wojcik.

The biggest problem is not what kills pollinators but what actually makes their population less functional and less viable.Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada

Pesticides used in general, for example, do not always kill pollinators but have an impact on their health. They cannot reproduce as well or their cognitive abilities can be affected. This is becoming a major problem for these animals, who must remember where to get their food every day or how to get it.

Another factor is one that concerns everyone on the planet: climate change. The pattern of pollinators (when they emerge and look for plants) is changing with climate. They may come out in the spring and not be able to find food because the plants have already disappeared, killing an entire generation.

If we look at what Canada is doing in this area, we see that it has done a good job in terms of regulations to prevent the death of some of these pollinators.

Recently, the Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility has inaugurated the installation of 13 beehives on the grounds of the Senate of Canada Building.

But there is much to be done to support new habitats and better policies.

At a national and provincial level having policies where we are actually paying attention to our pollinators, not just the ones that are critically listed, not just the ones that we hear about in the news when there is an incident or there is a pesticide but recognising the importance of these silent helpers that are bringing us our food pollinating our wild plants.Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada

The director of Pollinator Partnership Canada concluded by saying that ‘there is definitely room to grow and have a proactive rather than reactive policy in Canada”.

You can find more information on this subject on Pollinator.org.

Listen to the full interview with Vicki Wojcik, Director of Pollinator Partnership Canada
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