The four main orders of pollinating insects

Insects have a variety of diets, ranging from carnivores eating other animals, to phytophagous eating plants, to necrophagous eating dead bodies. Some species feed on pollen or nectar. These insects generally belong to four major orders of insect pollinators and their main characteristics are as follows.


Caractéristiques d’un hyménoptère, exemple de l’Abeille domestique (Apis melifera)
Characteristics of a Hymenoptera, example of the Honey Bee (Apis melifera). © Laure Turcati, photo issue de la collection SPIPOLL du 23 juillet 2011 à Montier-les-bains (05079) par avette

Hymenoptera include bees, bumblebees, wasps and ants. There are 8,000 species in France. These insects are characterised by two pairs of membranous wings (absent in the workers of ants but visible in the queen and the males). The best known pollinator, the honey bee, is a hymenoptera. But this fame should not obscure the great diversity of wild bees that play a fundamental role in the reproduction of flowering plants.


Caractéristiques d’un diptère, exemple d’un syrphe
Characteristics of a diptera, example of a hoverfly. © Laure Turcati, photo issue du SPIPOLL réalisée par M. Baudin

The second pair of wings of Diptera is transformed into a pair of pendulums which are flight stabilisers. We know of 8,000 species of Diptera in France, including flies, hoverflies and bombyla. Hoverflies are small flies that look like small wasps and are able to hover. Diptera feed on pollen and/or nectar with their proboscis, and probably play an important role in the pollination of small flowers, which are unattractive to large pollinators.


Caractéristiques d’un coléoptère, exemple de l’Oedémère vert (Oedemera sp.)
Characteristics of a beetle, example of the green Oedemeria (Oedemera sp.) © Laure Turcati, photo issue du SPIPOLL réalisée par Sabdomi

They are insects with rigid forewings called elytra. The elytra form a carapace that protects the abdomen and the membranous hind wings. There are 10,000 species of beetles in France, many of which are floricultural. Beetles often consume the stamens and pollen of flowers and are generally not very efficient pollinators. However, it should be noted that the first known pollinating insects, 200 million years ago, were small beetles.




Caractéristiques d’un , exemple du Machaon (Papilio machaon).
Characteristics of an example of the Machaon (Papilio machaon). © Laure Turcati, photo issue de la collection SPIPOLL du 22/09/2011 à Vauvert (30341) réalisée par Valie

These are the butterflies, of which there are 5,200 species in France. The best known are the so-called "daytime" species, of which there are only 250, while all the others are the so-called "nighttime" species. Most butterfly species visit flowers from which they collect nectar with their long proboscis, which is curled up at rest.


Classification of these four orders

Classification en arbre
Tree representation of an insect collection © Sébastien TURPIN


classification boîte
Representation of a collection of insects in nested groups © Sébastien TURPIN