bumble bee on blue baptisia flowers

Bumble bees (Bombus sp.). Photo: David L. Clement, University of Maryland

Updated: April 22, 2021

Common pollinators found in Maryland

Bees and wasps (Order Hymenoptera)

Many people are frightened of paper wasp stings, but they can serve as fantastic pollinators and natural enemies in your garden.

  • Bees and wasps are both in the order Hymenoptera, which also includes ants.

  • Maryland has over 400 documented bee species, many of which are native. Wasps are closely related to bees and are important pollinators as well. Learn more: Sam Droege, Wildlife Biologist, The USGS Native Bee Inventory and Monitoring Program

  • All wasps and bees pupate, which means they undergo complete metamorphosis. Most bee and wasp larvae look like small, opaque worms.

  • Believe it or not, not all bees and wasps make social hives! Some species, like mining bees, are solitary, which means there is no caste system, therefore no queen, and each female lays her own eggs.

  • Bees are some of the best pollinators because they deliberately collect pollen as food for their young and themselves. They carry pollen on their bodies to the next plant and the cycle continues.

  • Wasps can be both pollinators and parasitoids and predators, serving the role of natural enemies and eating and helping to control a variety of garden pests.

Paper wasps pollinating goldenrod. Video: Dr. Mike Raupp, University of Maryland

Butterflies and Moths (Order Lepidoptera)

  • Butterflies and moths are both in the order Lepidoptera, which literally means "scaled wing".

  • Moths are usually nocturnal, meaning they fly during the night or evening and pollinate night blooming plants. There are some exceptions like the hummingbird moth, which is active during the day.

  • Butterflies and moths undergo complete metamorphosis.

  • Butterflies and moths pollinate a wide variety of plants and their conspicuous larvae, called caterpillars, often feed on specific plants. We may think of some caterpillars as garden pests, but they are an important and necessary life stage of the butterfly and moth.

  • Butterflies and moths visit flowers to drink the nectar that the flower makes. Nectar is different than pollen. Nectar is a high sugar liquid made by the plant to lure pollinators. While the butterfly or moth is drinking the nectar, they inadvertently get pollen on them, which they transfer to the next flower. They use their long, probing proboscis or tongue to "sip" the nectar from the flower.

  • Some butterflies and moths migrate, most notably the monarch butterfly which can migrate from Canada to Mexico!

  • Butterflies that are brightly colored with red and orange butterflies, like the Monarch, use flashy colors to ward off predators like birds. Brightly colored butterflies may be toxic to eat, but some species are simply pretending by mimicking the coloration of toxic species.

  • Great spangled fritillary

    great spangled fritillary butterfly
  • Tiger swallowtail

    tiger swallowtail butterfly
  • Hummingbird moth

    hummingbird moth

Butterfly caterpillars can consume a lot of foliage in this stage, but they make up for it with their beauty and pollination services when they transform into adults. Video: Dr. Mike Raupp, UMD Entomologist (retired)

Beetles (Order Coleoptera) 

  • Many species of beetles pollinate flowers as they are looking for pollen to eat and nectar to drink.

  • These are the largest and most diverse group of animals in the world with over 350,000 species! Several groups of beetles feed on plant nectar and pollen, in turn transferring pollen for the plant.

  • Beetles were some of the first insects to pollinate angiosperms, or flowering plants, as far back as the 200 million years ago.

  • Beetles undergo complete metamorphosis. Their immature stage is sometimes mistaken for a worm and may live in the soil in your yard or garden. A quick way to tell the difference is the presence or absence of legs (beetle larvae have legs). 

Flower longhorn beetles feeding on pollen. Video: Dr. Mike Raupp, University of Maryland

Flies (Order Diptera)

  • Syrphid flies are often called hover flies because of their flight pattern. Syrphids are a common group of fly pollinators.

  • You may not realize it, but many different flies pollinate plants. They can easily be mistaken for other insects like bees because they are masters of mimicry. How can you tell the difference between bees or wasps and flies? Flies have one pair of wings and bees have two pairs of wings.

  • Flies are often attracted to flowering plants that have what we would consider unappealing smells, such as rotting meat, carrion, dung, humus, sap, and blood.

  • Like chocolate? The cacao plant from which chocolate is derived is pollinated by small flies called midges.

  • Flies undergo complete metamorphosis.

  • Hover or syrphid fly larvae, which may look like a small worm on your vegetables, are important natural enemies of common garden pests such as aphids, scales, thrips, and caterpillars. Finding adult hover flies in your garden is a wonderful thing!

Syrphid fly on goldenrod. Video: Dr. Mike Raupp, UMD Entomologist (retired)

  • Flower Fly

    Photo: Susan Ellis, Bugwood.org

    flower fly
  • Syrphid (aka hover fly) larva

    Photo: Clemson University - USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series , Bugwood.org

    syrphid fly larva

Rev. 2020 by Margaret Hartman, M.S. student, Department of Entomology, University of Maryland