How are we specialized animals

Which insect goes with which plant?

Everything at a glance

Insects pollinate our plants in search of food. Flowers and insects have therefore adapted to one another in the course of evolution. Some flowers can even only be pollinated by certain types of insect.

Rose chafer on a garden rose - Photo: Helge May

In search of food, each pollinating insect species has its own preferences. In the garden and on the balcony there should therefore be many native plants and a wide variety of flower shapes and colors. Something should always bloom from March to October.

The color and smell of plants attract insects from afar. Some flowers direct pollinators directly to their nectar or pollen with so-called color marks. Some of these patterns are not even visible to humans. Whether an insect can even get the food in the flower, however, determines its shape. Some pollinator groups are excluded by a special flower shape or even served very specifically. The length and shape of the insect's mouthparts and the size and shape of the flower play an important role in this.


Bumblebee on mint - Photo: NABU / Christoph Kasulke

Honey bees and wild bees feed on nectar and pollen and have only short probes. Therefore, the nectar should be within reach of 1 cm. They prefer to fly to labiate and pharynx with rough petal surfaces, on whose lower lip they can land easily. Some wild bees specialize in bluebells, which they crawl completely into. The colors of choice are yellow and blue, the animals can find the areas with nectar and pollen by means of a color mark. In order for early-flying wild bees such as bumblebees to find food, something should also bloom in spring, for example crocuses and dead nettles.

Plant examples: Garden sage, muscatel sage, adder's head, nettles, tendril bellflower, round-leaved bellflower, red foxglove, crocus, nodding thistle, phacelia, spherical thistle, beetle flower, lungwort, black chamomile, field bean, hyssop.


Brimstone butterfly on purple coneflower - Photo: NABU / Hubertus Schwarzentraub

Butterflies suck nectar from deep, long flower tubes that bees and flies cannot reach. Often the nectar is hidden in the mostly upright flowers up to 4 cm inside the flower. Favorite colors are red, blue or yellow. The colored marks attract the insects to their source of food in the flower. Butterflies must be able to land easily on the flowers. Plate-shaped flowers with long tubes (plate flowers) such as carnations are therefore popular with flights. Butterflies such as common horned clover, gorse or spring flat pea and tubular flowers, such as those from cardigans, also attract butterflies.

Plant examples: Field widow flower, meadow knapweed, red clover, carnations, spring pea, common horn clover, teasel, gorse

Pigeon tail on a flame flower - Photo: NABU / Frank Hecker

Also for Moth nature has suitable flowers ready. Moths fly on mostly hanging tubular flowers and plate flowers, the nectar of which can be hidden up to 20 cm deep. They prefer bright flowers without colored marks. Since it is dark, the moths orient themselves on the strong, sweet smell of the flower. There are several groups of moths, the largest being the hawks and owls. While owls need a landing place, it is not necessary for swarmers like the pigeon tail. Moth plants are closed during the day. They open in the evening and then give off their aroma.

Plant examples: Evening primrose, Jelängerjelieber, white light carnation, nodding catchfly, fence winch

Tip: If you want to lure butterflies into the green at home, you should definitely think of the caterpillars' forage plants, such as the common dost or common horn clover on the balcony or willow and raspberries in the garden.


Rose chafer on beaver hide rose - Photo: NABU / Helge May

Beetle are considered to be the first pollinators in the history of the earth. Beetles that visit flowers mainly eat pollen, as the nectar is often too deeply hidden for their short, biting mouthparts. They can therefore be found on easily accessible, open, pollen-rich flowers such as roses, apple trees and clematis or umbellifers such as angelica and wild carrot. The colors of the flowers move in the whitish or yellow-brownish spectrum. In addition, beetles love everything that smells. Therefore, some beetle flowers give off a bitter scent, while others smell fruity. Beetles also use the flowers to sunbathe, spend the night or as a mating place.

Plant examples: Umbelliferae such as field chervil, calf goiter, angelica or meadow hogweed.

Bed bugs

Strip bug on umbellifers - Photo: NABU / Helge May

Bed bugs have a short, fold-out proboscis and mainly fly towards easily accessible flowers. Knotweed and ampfers are among her preferences. They also like to lay their eggs on these. The next generation is sitting on the right forage crop right away. Some adult animals prefer juices from unripe fruits from their host plants, such as raspberries and blackberries. The Leather bug, the most common species, feeds on hedge bushes, various perennials, thistles and fireweed and prefers dock and knotweed species. Strip bugs and other types of bugs like the sweet juice of umbellifers like dill or wild carrot.

Plant examples: Knotweed, dock, umbelliferae, thistles, fireweed, raspberries, blackberries

To fly

Hoverfly on umbelliferae - Photo: NABU / Helge May

Species visiting flowers need different flower shapes. While Hoverflies Consume nectar and look for flowers that are as openly accessible as possible, fly Scavenging very special flowers to lay their eggs there. Hover flies have short and leaky mouthparts and favor umbelliferous and composite plants or are attracted by trap flowers, from which they only emerge after pollination.

Plant examples: Umbelliferae (e.g. fennel, dill or caraway), daisy family (dyer's chamomile or dog chamomile), fallen flowers such as arum or swallowwort

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