Last updated on February 5th, 2022
While teaching second-grade students about the dispersal of seeds, I was faced with several questions like why the distribution of seeds is necessary and can we humans disperse seeds.
As interesting as these questions were, they were all quite intriguing. For example, many animals, especially insects, often consume pollen and seeds, nectar, and other flower parts. I have always thought pollen was inedible, but I discovered that there are several that animals eat pollen.
Animals that eat pollen:
Animals consuming pollen is also essential to the pollination and propagation of seeds. Some of the animals that eat pollen are as follows:
Bees are often seen moving from one flower to flower. The common notion is that they are in search of nectar.
But bees are pollinators, and they are also known to eat pollen, however, the bees won’t always eat the pollen, they will oftentimes reserve it for the larvae in the hive.
Pollen has the protein necessary for the larvae to grow. It is well-known that bees collect nectar from flowers, convert it to honey, and store it in the colony.
Pollen is also collected by bees and stored in the hive as food. Both pollen and nectar as seasonal food need to be stored so that the insects can have sufficient supply when food is scarce.
It is important to point out that hummingbirds do not intentionally eat pollen. For example, if you have observed a hummingbird sucking nectar from a flower, you will find that the bird inserts its long beak into the flower.
After the beak is inserted, some of the pollen from the flower adheres to the beak of the birds. As a result, the bird consumes some amount of pollen while drinking the nectar.
This pollen is a minor source of protein for the hummingbirds, and via the method above, they can be considered an animal that eats pollen.
Moths are pollinators, much like bees. But when it comes to pollinations, the common notion is that the pollen will adhere to the insect’s feet.
Hawkmoths are just like bees who move from flower to flower in search of nectar. However, as they suck nectar from the flowers, they consume pollen as well.
Moths are considered to be palynivore insects that consume pollen. One of the reasons that moths consume pollen is because pollen is an excellent source of protein and this provides the insect with sufficient energy to make future trips for nectar.
Unlike bees, moths do not eat pollen at the larval stage but consume it when matured.
The usual food of butterflies is nectar from the flowers. You will find butterflies sitting on the flowers ‘drinking’ the nectar with the help of the long proboscis.
The pollen adheres to the feet of the butterfly, which makes the insect an expert pollinator. But butterflies are also palynivore creatures by nature.
Moreover, butterflies are not extremely specific about their source of food. They are known to find food even amongst weeds.
The pollen in flowers often enters the butterfly through the nectar. It is not something that the butterfly intentionally consumes, but it often forms a part of its diet.
Ants are also excellent pollinators, and you will often find them near flowers that have nectar. The bodies of ants are also sometimes covered in pollen.
Since the majority of ants do not have wings, you will find these insects crawling around plants covered in flowers, especially succulents.
Ants are not palynivores, but you will often find these creatures consuming pollen grains. One of the reasons is that ants are omnivorous and can eat almost anything.
Additionally, the liquid inside the pollen grains can be a rich source of protein for the ants, especially the young ones.
Hence, pollen grains are often collected and taken to the colony for storage or consumed directly by the ants.
Famously known for storing honey for their colony are the honeypot ants. This ant stores the honey in their abdomen which causes it to swell enormously and allows them to act as a storage vessel when food supply is scarce.
Beetles are well-known palynivores, and they often visit flowers that have a significant amount of pollen.
You will often find more than one beetle congregating on flowers that have lots of pollen.
The beetles are known for directly consuming pollen grains and they are also excellent pollinators. You will also find that the flowers pollinated by beetles produce a significantly high amount of pollen.
This is because after the beetles have consumed the pollen, there should be a sufficient number of grains left adhering to the insect’s body for successful pollination.
The behaviors of wasps are similar to that of bees. They expend a significant amount of energy in collecting nectar for their respective colonies.
Additionally, wasps like bees eat pollen. The primary reason why wasps eat pollen is that they require a good source of energy and protein because they spend most of the time obtaining food for the larvae.
Unlike bees, what distinguishes wasps from bees is that the wasp’s larvae feed on smaller insects like spiders as well as honey.
Furthermore, the adult wasp has to expend a large amount of energy to use its stinger every day to capture prey to feed the larvae in the colony.
Hence the nectar and the pollen supply the energy and protein to the wasps.
Bats pollinate several tropical plants. Unusual as it may seem, bats are known to eat pollen and nectar.
One of the reasons why bats should be attracted to pollen is because they have two amino acids, tyrosine, and leucine, which are both essential for the excellent health of bats.
Moreover, plant-eating bats need to supplement their diet with a good supply of proteins which the pollen provides.
Hence, you will find that the flower-visiting bats and the pollinating bats consume both nectar and pollen.
Earwigs are insects that are often considered to be pests. These soft-bodied insects are omnivores that can eat anything that is plant-based, animal-based, dead, and decaying since they are opportunistic feeders.
You will find that earwigs can eat pollen from plants as well. However, they do not aid in pollination.
In some cases, the pollen grains can be pretty well-hydrated, making them attractive for earwigs.
So you will sometimes see these insects crawling on the flowers and consuming all the pollen grains.
The animals that regularly consume pollen are bees, hummingbirds, hawkmoths, butterflies, ants, beetles, wasps, bats, and earwigs.