Over three-fourths of the world’s flowering plants and almost 35 percent of the world’s food crops depend on pollination to help them reproduce. Pollination is the transfer of pollen from the male part of the flower (stamen) to the female part of the same or another flower (stigma). Some plants are self-pollinators, while others can be fertilized by the wind.
Animal pollinators such as bats, beetles, and flies will visit flowers for food such as nectar and pollen. Bees will spend most of their lives collecting pollen to feed their developing offspring. Some animals, such as butterflies and birds, move pollen accidentally. Pollen will stick to their bodies when drinking or feeding on nectar, and the animals unknowingly transport that pollen from flower to flower.
Scientists from the Federal University of Mato Grosso do Sul in Brazil have discovered another animal to add to our pollinator list – the Brazilian tree frog. Typically, frogs will feed on moths and insects, which they capture by sticking out their long tongues. The Brazilian tree frog has been seen dunking its head into a flower bulb of a Brazilian milk fruit tree and drinking up the nectar. The frog unintentionally becomes a pollinator because the pollen grains will get stuck to its skin and get dispersed from flower to flower as it makes its way through the forest.
This might be the first time an amphibian has ever been observed pollinating flowering plants. While most frog species are carnivorous, other frogs are known to feed on plant parts. The Brazilian tree frog feeds on both plants and insects. It will eat anything available for consumption.
The scientists noted that they need to do more research on the Brazilian tree frog to classify it as a true pollinator officially, but they are very excited to have witnessed this interaction. A few of the main pollinators that we depend on for crops, such as butterflies and bees, are threatened with extinction. The reasons for these animals’ disappearance include changes in land use, intensive agriculture, the spread of transgenic crops and plantations of invasive exotic species, environmental pollution, climate change, and the use of pesticides.
The risk of these pollinators disappearing is that we will lose the ability to grow vegetables, fruits and seeds. It would also harm the development of medications, biofuels, fibres such as cotton and construction materials like wood. The loss of these pollinators would also negatively affect the economy of many countries.
The discovery of a potential new pollinator such as the Brazilian tree frog could impact our crops and help maintain our food system, which depends on pollinators. While we must protect our existing pollinators, such as bees, bats, birds and butterflies, we should be open to the possibility that other pollinators exist and can help us sustain the people of the world.