Woman holding binoculars Join today and get outside at one of our 60+ wildlife sanctuaries.
Woman holding binoculars Join today and get outside at one of our 60+ wildlife sanctuaries.
Swallowtail butterfly on coneflower

The Power of Pollinators

Pollinators are animals that help plants reproduce by spreading a powdery material called pollen among flowers of the same species. 

Animals, primarily bees, pollinate a majority of fruits and vegetables (non-grain crops) used in agriculture. Pollinators don’t just help plants; they rely on the rewards plants provide, such as energy-rich nectar and protein-rich pollen, to survive and reproduce.

Types of Pollinators in Massachusetts 

There are many different types of pollinators in Massachusetts, from native bees to beetles to hummingbirds.

Hoverfly on leaf
Hoverfly © Susumu Kishihara


Some flies, such as flower flies and bee flies, are important pollinators. They visit flowers to consume pollen and nectar; in the process, sticky pollen becomes attached to their bodies. Many flies mimic wasps and bees in their shape and coloration, partly so that predators will avoid them.

Close up of a red and black spotted beetle on a green leaf.
Red Milkweed Beetle © Deyan Kassev


The fossil record suggests that beetles were the first pollinators of flowering plants. Adult beetles feed on pollen and the flower itself. Pollen becomes trapped on their bodies and spreads between flowers.

Carpenter Bee with pollen on legs © Meyer Franklin
Carpenter Bee © Meyer Franklin

Bees & Wasps

Besides European honeybees, there are more than 365 bee species documented in Massachusetts. Adult bees eat nectar; they feed their young a mix of pollen and nectar. Wasps visit flowers to consume energy-rich nectar and sometimes pollen. As predators, wasps spend most of their time looking for insects to feed their young while foraging at flowers. Learn more about bees & wasps

Monarch on Joe Pye Weed © Janice Schlickman

Butterflies & Moths

Butterflies and moths lay eggs on or near the vegetation they eat as caterpillars; these food plants are known as "host plants." As adults, they consume nectar from flowers and sugar from sap and fruit. Most butterflies and moths pollinate flowers that produce lots of nectar, such as native milkweed and columbine. Learn more about butterflies and moths

Ruby-throated Hummingbird visiting monarda flower (Kristin Foresto/Mass Audubon)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

This bird needs a great deal of food to keep energized, so hummingbirds visit flowers that provide a lot of nectar, such as the cardinal flower. Pollen sticks to the feathers around the bird’s bill and face and is carried to the next flower. Learn more about hummingbirds

Threats to Pollinators 

Many species of pollinators are experiencing dramatic declines. Populations of native bees and other pollinators are threatened by climate change, pesticide exposure, habitat degradation and agricultural intensification, declining populations of native flowering plants, and introduced pathogens.

Populations of three bumblebee species in the eastern United States have declined by over 90% in the past 30 years. 

How Mass Audubon is Helping Pollinators

Mass Audubon has been and continues to advocate for legislation to protect pollinators. And many of our wildlife sanctuaries have specially managed gardens designed to attract and support pollinators.

How You Can Help Pollinators

Fortunately, there are ways to help—and small changes can make a big difference.

  • Plant a pollinator garden with native and beneficial plants.
  • Try mowing less of your lawn or raise your mower to a higher setting to let violets and other small flowers remain.
  • Minimize the use of pesticides and herbicides, which can kill pollinators and the plants they rely on.
  • Buy or build a bee hotel, a structure for bees to nest in; many garden centers are starting to carry them.

More on Pollinators

  • Hummingbird on bee balm flower

    Pollinator Plant Duos

    Looking to attract any of these pollinators to your home? Try adding some of these plants to your garden.

  • swamp milkweed with bee
    Spotted Joe-pye Weed

    Native & Beneficial Plants

    Learn to foster pollinator-friendly landscapes using native and beneficial plants.

  • Caterpillar crawling on milkweed plant
    Milkweed at Tidmarsh Wildlife Sanctuary

    Don't Weed the Milkweed

    Milkweed is an incredibly beneficial plant that should be encouraged to grow. 

  • Beekeeper holding apiary section with bees


    Discover the art of beekeeping to support these essential pollinators.