Bembix wasp covered in pollen Click to enlarge image
Photographed at Tolderol Game Reserve South Australia approx 60Km SE of Adelaide. This is a sand wasp belonging to the genus Bembix, unable to identify exactly which species without examining the specimen. The sand wasps are closely related to the Mud-dauber Wasp but, unlike their cousins, sand wasps dig burrows in loose sand where they lay their eggs. The wasp will often nest in colonies in loose sand and in a sunny position. They are solitary hunting wasps . The adult sand wasps feed on nectar,(as you have photographed with the pollen on the wasps legs, head and abdomen) but most hunt for flies to feed to the larvae in the nest. They paralyse their insect prey and drag to their burrows to feed the larvae. The adult wasps stock the burrow with paralysed insects and cover up the burrow. When the larvae hatch they feed on the insects left for them. They are not aggressive wasps and will not attempt to sting if encountered. Image: Peter Koch
Courtesy Australian Museum, Public Domain, Photographer: Peter Koch, Date: [2017] This image is in the Australian Museum collection

Have fun and learn how insects pollinate flowers in this hands-on Bugwise activity.

Focus question

Who are the pollinators?

Fast fact: Charles Darwin found a very long tubular flower in the South American jungle and predicted someday someone would find an insect with a tongue of matching length to reach the nectar at its base. After much searching and over one hundred years later, a moth was found. More recently an even longer tube flower has been found in Madagascar and the search in on for the insect pollinator.

Concepts and key words
Anther Butterflies Insects
Pollinator Stamen Bees
Flies Pollen Reproduction
Stigma Beetles Fruit
Pollination Seed Wasps


Pose the focus question
Who are the pollinators? List and display all answers and questions as they arise.
What does pollinate mean? To pollinate means to mix the male (pollen) and female (stigma and ovule) parts of the flower so the flower can reproduce. If you get stuck, read through What is pollination as a class.

Move out to the playground or garden for plant and insect interaction. Structure the activity to maximise observation data (see Structuring field observations for guidelines). Ask your students to work in groups to make observations. Use the matrix – Plants and insects in our garden – as a way to record your observations.

Collate all data and reflect on observations back in the classroom. Discuss the following terms and develop class definitions for them: pollen, pollination, and pollinator. Pose the following questions to the class if you get stuck.

  • How is the insect benefiting by its visits to the flowers?
  • Can a flower reproduce without an insect pollinator?
  • What would happen if there were no pollinators?

As a class, discuss the purpose an insect has for visiting the flower. Find a banksia or other flower heavy with nectar, and pass it around the class.

Assess your students understanding by posing the following questions.

  • What would happen in the life cycle of the plant if part of the plant was removed?
  • What would happen if bees were extinct?
  • Could you create a flower that might attract only short-tongued bees? Only butterflies? Only moths? What would it look like?


Underlying science

  • Flowers contain the reproductive parts of a plant. To enable pollen transfer and the development of seeds, many plants rely on insects (and other vectors e.g. wind and mammals) to ensure successful cross-fertilisation.
  • Many plants depend on animals, particularly insects, to transfer pollen as they forage. (Plant2pollinator only focuses on insect pollination, but reference should be made to all other biotic vectors – birds, mammals, reptiles and abiotic vectors - wind and water.)
  • Plants attract pollinators in various ways, by offering pollen or nectar meals and by guiding them to the flower using scent and visual cues. This has resulted in strong relationships between plants and the animals that pollinate them.