Hoverfly A hoverfly inspects a rocky mountain bee plant. © Bill Keffeler

United States

Celebrating the Pollinators of the Rocky Mountain Region

Flower Power: Let's do a Q&A with three of our local pollinators.

A black and yellow colored ornate checkered beetle crawls across a green leaf.
Ornate Checkered Beetle A black and yellow colored ornate checkered beetle crawls across a green leaf. © Judy Gallagher

The wildflower buckles under the weight of the beetle. It’s a sticky geranium, and it has bloomed early this summer, spreading into a fragrant carpet across the mountain meadow. As the beetle crawls, the pink petals shiver. This visitor is hefty by flower standards. It’s an ornate checkered beetle (Trichodes ornatus). Its long, slender body is covered in yellow and black markings—designed to mimic a wasp and deter predators. But a closer look reveals the cute club antennae protruding from the beetle’s head. She’s seeking the sweet pollen, a rich source of protein, which she can smell pooled inside the flower. Her back and legs are coated with a fine dust of yellow pollen. She’s feeding and surviving, and she’s performing a vital service for the ecosystem: pollination.

Conserving Pollinators

Along with bees, butterflies, hummingbirds, moths, bats, and flies—beetles are among the pollinators keeping nature vibrant. From our farms and colorful wildflowers to our backyard gardens and national parks, it’s hard to overstate what pollinators mean to us. They are the purveyors of life itself.

But these important creatures are under threat. As native plants are replaced by roads, manicured lawns, and non-native gardens, pollinators suffer from the loss and degradation of their habitats. To honor these animals that do so much for us, let’s meet a few of the pollinators who thrive throughout the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and Wyoming.

Regional Pollinators Rock It

There are more than 200,000 different species of animals around the world that act as pollinators. Here in our Rocky Mountain region, you’ll find a range of vertebrates and invertebrates carrying pollen between our precious plants. Let’s do a Q&A with three of our busy pollinators.

A sandstone digger bee pops its head out from its hole.
Sandstone Digger Bee (Anthophora pueblo) A sandstone digger bee pops its head out from its hole. © Michael Orr Utah State University

Sandstone Digger Bee (Anthophora pueblo)

Who Am I?
I’m a newly discovered bee in the drylands of the Southwest. Fuzzy and grey, I’m a member of the genus Anthophora—the digger bees—known for digging holes in the ground for our nests. I’m a generalist pollinator and scientists think I’m an important contributor to the health of desert ecosystems.

One My Quirks
Home security is my thing. I’m named in honor of the Ancestral Puebloans, who built dwellings in the sandstone cliffs of the Four Corners region 1,400 years ago. That’s because I use my powerful mandibles and nearby water sources to tunnel my home into soft sandstone. The sandstone protects my nest from erosion and desert flash floods as well as predatory and parasitic nest invaders. Once I vacate my nests, many other species are able to use them as well; over ten other species of bees and wasps do this!

My Greatest Fear
Scientists are still learning about me, but as climate change unfolds in the Southwest, and there's more demand for water from the Colorado River system, the water resources I depend on are threatened. 

What I Mean to You
People are astonishingly dependent on bees. There are more than 4,000 native bee species in this country, and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, they pollinate approximately 75 percent of the fruits, nuts and vegetables grown here. Breaking that down, about one out of every four bites of food Americans take is thanks to pollination from bees like me.

A rufous hummingbird sips nectar from a flower.
Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) A rufous hummingbird sips nectar from a flower. © Tom Benson

Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)

Who Am I?
For a hummingbird, I’m medium-sized. You’ll notice me right away because of my vibrant orange body (I’m a male). I’ll be zipping through your garden or at your feeder in late summer or early fall. I’ll only stay for a short time because I’m a bird on the move. In fact, every year I fly from Mexico to Alaska and back, making the longest bird migration on Earth as measured in body lengths.

One of My Quirks
Ok. I’ll admit it. I’m not super easy going. In fact, I’m downright feisty. As the most aggressive hummingbird out there, I’ll go after anyone and anything in my territory and protect my pollen sources with a vengeance. I chase away other hummers, wasps, bees...maybe even a chipmunk or two.

My Greatest Fear
My population is declining. I’m losing habitat in my breeding and wintering grounds, I’m threatened by pesticides and decreasing insect populations, and climate change is causing me to miss the crucial blooming windows of the flowers that feed me.

 Oh, and I really, really hate cats.

What I Mean to You
I’m no bird brain. Hummingbirds like me have an amazing memory. We can pinpoint nectar and keep track of which blooms are at their peak. We can also remember bird feeder locations from previous years. All this recall ability allows me to do a crucial job for you: pollinate flowers, including many different perennials, like daylilies, bee balms and lupines; biennials such as foxgloves and hollyhocks; and annuals such as petunias and impatiens. I pollinate these flowers, as well as trees and shrubs in vastly different landscapes as I travel over the thousands of miles of habitat that I visit annually.

A monarch butterfly rests on a flower.
Western Monarch Butterfly A monarch butterfly rests on a flower. © Kathy Lichtendahl

Western Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Who Am I?
Chances are good that you know me. I’m a bit of a celebrity in the insect world. My delicate orange wings, laced with black lines and bordered with white dots, are instantly recognizable. I can travel up to 80 miles in a single day, but my life is short. Monarchs like me can migrate distances of up to 3,100 miles but no single one of us makes the entire round trip. In the spring, we disperse across the western states, seeking milkweed on which to lay our eggs. Several generations can take place throughout the summer. The last generation then migrates all the way back to overwintering grounds, which for us, are along the coast in California.

One of My Quirks
I’m poisonous. You’re not the only one who can easily recognize me. My distinct markings warn potential predators that I’m a bad meal choice. I retain poison from milkweed leaves in my body. Did you know I smell with my antennae and I taste nectar with tiny sensory hairs on my legs and feet? Pretty cool.

My Greatest Fear
We monarchs are in serious trouble. There’s been a 90 percent decline in monarch numbers in the last couple of decades. As development throughout our migration corridor expands, and people use pesticides that kill milkweed, we are rapidly losing the places and plants we need to survive.

What I Mean to You
I pick up pollen as I sip the flower’s nectar through my straw-like mouthpart, called a proboscis, and I carry it with me as a I move to my next flower. Many people view me as the “canary in the cornfield.” The decline of my charismatic species is a big warning that our ecosystems are becoming out of balance, and other pollinator species are also in jeopardy.

A child stares in wonder at butterflies floating above their head.
Child Watching Butterflies A child stares in wonder at butterflies floating overhead. © Philippe Put

Don't Bee a Buzz Kill. Here Are a Few Ways to Help Your Pollinators.

Quote: Achim Steiner

Human beings have fabricated the illusion that in the 21st century they have the technological prowess to be independent of nature. Bees underline the reality that we are more, not less, dependent on nature’s services...

Executive Director UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

Looking for Local Pollinators? 

Use our map below to find preserves managed by The Nature Conservancy you can visit to learn how we protect pollinators and their habitat. 

Ramsey Canyon Preserve
Ramsey Canyon, in the Upper San Pedro River Basin in southeastern Arizona, is renowned for its outstanding scenic beauty and the diversity plants and animals.
Patagonia Sonoita Creek Preserve
Located in a lush floodplain between the Patagonia and Santa Rita Mountains of southeastern Arizona, this preserve has some of the richest streamside habitat in the region. It is h
Hart Prairie Preserve
Surrounded by thousands of acres of cool forest and meadows, the 245-acre preserve is home to uncommon wildflowers, old growth ponderosa pine, a rare grove of Bebb willows, herds o
Aiken Canyon Preserve
Aiken Canyon Preserve is located in one of the highest-quality foothills ecosystems along Colorado's Front Range.
River Fork Ranch
TNC has protected 805 acres of important floodplain at a working cattle ranch where sustainable grazing is practiced to provide habitat for many plants and animals, including the s
Santa Fe Canyon Preserve
Santa Fe Canyon Preserve is 525 acres of open space that offers a thriving bosque of cottonwood and willow trees, a pond, the ruins of an historic Victorian-era dam, hiking trails,
Gila Riparian Preserve
The Gila Riparian Preserve protects the Southwest's fragile riparian habitat and the verdant gallery woodland along the Gila River. The Gila River in New Mexico is one of the last
The Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve
The Great Salt Lake Shorelands Preserve provides visitors with over a mile of boardwalk and access to the wetlands of the Great Salt Lake - important nesting and foraging habitat f
Red Canyon Ranch
Red Canyon Ranch, located just south of Lander, is a working ranch in the midst of spectacular red rock cliffs, rare plants and an abundance of wildlife.

Looking for Local Pollinators? Check out these pollinator-friendly preserves you can visit in your state.

Capturing a butterfly in the field.
Nevada Butterfly Workshop Capturing a butterfly in the field. © Lori Leonard/TNC

Community Scientists Save Pollinators

Your eyes and ears can help the pollinators! Conservation researchers increasingly rely on data from people like you to identify threats to pollinators. Here are some programs to get you in the field and recording your finds: