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Pollinator Syndromes

In this activity, students match different types of pollinators to their preferred flowers and discover how pollinators have co-evolved with plants.

Pollinators are attracted to specific features of a flower. The set of flower features that attract pollinators is called the flower's pollination syndrome.

  • The shape of many flowers has been adapted to match the shape and size of the pollinator’s body part used to get nectar.
  • The odour of a given flower is meant to attract a specific pollinator. For example, flies like the smell of decaying food and some plants smell like rotting meat to attract flies.
  • All organisms have different visible colour spectrums. The colour of a flower fits the visible spectrum of their specific pollinator.

The flower's pollination syndrome is the result of the set of the flower's features (colour, shape, size, nectar type and odour) that attract pollinators. While there are a range of features that make up a flower's pollination syndrome, the colour preferences of pollinators are an easy way for students to try to match pollinators with their preferred flowers. Here are some general pollinator colour preferences that you can review with your students before they try to match the pollinator cards to the flowers cards:

  • Bees are likely to visit yellow, violet or blue flowers.
  • Flies prefer brown or purple flowers.
  • Butterflies prefer pink flowers. 
  • Moths prefer white flowers.
  • Birds are attracted to flowers that are red.
  • Note: These are general colour preferences because pollinators can still pollinate a range of colours. 

Pollination syndromes are a great example of co-evolution in nature. Pollinators select for specific flowers based on their pollination syndrome and both the flower and pollinator adapt to each other’s changes over time.

Objectives

  • Describe the importance of biodiversity for both pollinators and plants.

  • List a few characteristics of common pollinators (birds, bees, bats, butterflies).

Materials

  • Per Group:
    One set of pollinator and flower cards

Key Questions

  • What are the names of some common pollinators? What do they look like? What do you think they eat?
  • What body part do pollinators use to get nectar? Can you see their tongue or proboscis?
  • How do insects help distribute pollen?How do pollinators benefit from flowers? How do flowers benefit from pollinators?
  • What are characteristics of pollinators and flowers that make them suitable to one another?

What To Do

Pre-Activity

  1. Review common pollinators and their roles.
  2. Review the concept of pollinator syndromes as well as some common pollinator flower preferences before the students try the matching challenge.

Set-up

  1. Divide students into small groups, each sitting at their own table.
  2. Give each group a set of pollinator and flower cards, randomly mixed.

Challenge

  1. As a group, look at all the cards and use the written hints, or what the flowers look like, to match the flower card to the pollinator card.
  2. Once your group has matched all the cards, put up your hand. The first group to finish and have all cards matched properly wins.
  3. Once all groups have found a match, discuss what different pollinators look for in a flower, and what flower features attract pollinators. Colour is a recognizable feature for students to rely upon, but discussions about other flower features such as nectar, shape, size and odour along with pollinators’ features and how these may have co-evolved are also valid.

Extensions

  • Observe pollinators in your everyday life. What are they doing? Where are they? How many do you see?
  • How many different types of pollinators can you spot? What flowers do you see them on?
  • Brainstorm ideas of how we can increase the number of pollinators found in our neighbourhood.
  • Make a list of all the food items that you can think of that require pollinators.
  • Imagine that you are a pollinator. Design a flower for you to get nectar. Consider size, shape, smell and taste.
  • Think of some flowers that you know, and try to find out if they follow a specific pollinator syndrome. Think about why these pollination syndromes have evolved over time.