In this activity, students compare the unique tools that pollinators have to reach the nectar inside of flowers. Students learn how the tool used to gather nectar determines what flower each pollinator will be attracted to.
Flowers use colours, smell, designs, warmth, and size to attract pollinators. Pollinators are attracted to flowers because of the rewards hidden deep inside the flower— the nectar. If a flower is the right size for a pollinator, then the pollinator can drink the nectar, and in doing so will pick up pollen on their body. Then, as they visit other flowers for more nectar, they will spread the pollen from one plant to another.
Both the pollinator and the plant benefit from the pollination interaction.
With this in mind, all flowers are NOT meant to be pollinated by every pollinator, and pollinators are NOT designed to be able to pollinate every flower. What determines a good match has a lot to do with shape and size of the flower and the shape and size of the pollinator’s body parts.
Hummingbirds use their tongues, which stretch to 2/3 of the length of their body, to reach the nectar deep inside trumpet shaped flowers. When they pull their tongue in, it wraps around their brain.
Bees have an even longer tongue compared to their body length—anywhere from 1/2 to 3/4 of their body length. Bees, however, are small creatures and prefer flowers more suited to their varying sizes.
Butterflies and moths use a tongue-like structure called a proboscis, 1.5 times their body length, to reach nectar inside flowers. This proboscis is not used for tasting though. Instead, butterflies use their feet to taste nectar! Butterflies are not the precision flyers that hummingbirds and bees are, they prefer larger, open flowers, which they can land on to feed.
Bats have adapted to feed on pollen of night blooming plants, and ones that have large enough flowers for their whole face to enter.