Bumblebees get an early start in the spring. They need to find nectar and pollen quickly, as their hive is running out of honey. The queen, larger than the others, is the first to emerge. Wildflowers that bloom in early spring depend on these early arrivals to pollinate them. Because the weather is so erratic at this time of year timing is crucial to survival. If the timing of insect arrival or flowers coming into bloom doesn’t match or crucial populations have declined, both the insects and plants are in trouble. Most insects rely on very specific species of plants, which in turn are adapted to specific insect pollinators. Different habitats offer different conditions for both plants and wildlife. Some insects will accept cultivated plants that are similar to the native ones they have adapted to. But many do not recognize them as edible, and suffer if cultivated and/or invasive species crowd out their natural diet plants. Invasive species also displace natives, leaving flowers or insects (or both) stranded.
Monarch butterflies, highly dependent on milkweed, are probably the most well known and loved insects. Sadly, their numbers have been drastically reduced by pesticides and habitat destruction. While the big showy butterflies are a treat to watch, there are numerous smaller insects that are also mutually dependent on specific plants to survive. Flowers are not just a magnet for bugs. They can be a magnet for bug eaters as well. Hiding out in among the petals, a spider can snag it’s dinner there if it’s fast enough. Although insects help plants by spreading their pollen far and wide, they also use them for shelter. Caterpillars often feed on the leaves and build their cocoons on stems. They also require specific plants for hiding and hibernation. These must not be too far from where the larva emerge. Survival is a chancy thing.
Of course, insect and flower interactions are only a sample of the many collaborative relationships in nature. Examples of interdependence exist everywhere we look. Complex relationships tie individuals in all sorts of ways. Each of these relationships is connected to other relationships. The entire web shifts, and adjusts and reconfigures, for good or ill.
Field Guide to the Seasons tells you what plants and animals are doing throughout the year. To find out how, go the Book tab on the home page.