Bees are rightfully regarded as the heavy lifters of the pollinator world. They’re responsible for up to 80% of pollination for some crops. Modern agriculture could not function without them.
But when it comes to cotton, bees are not the entire cultivation equation. New research from Sarah Cusser, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Kellogg Biological Station at Michigan State University, shows that butterflies also play a big part in pollinating Texas cotton.
Cusser studied cotton pollination in southeast Texas while working toward her doctorate at the University of Texas at Austin. She spent four summers slowly walking through cotton fields between Corpus Christi and Victoria, logging the insects she found. She was surprised by the results.
“I went out to the field expecting to collect exclusively bees, but when I got there, I found a lot of flies and butterflies as well,” she told the Texas Standard.
Cusser concluded that butterflies are responsible for about one third of cotton pollination in Texas – a greater percentage than she expected. That translates to about $120 million in annual value for the state’s cotton growers.
Next, Cusser said she’s going to look at how farmers can use these insights to help their crops.
“That’s actually what we’re working on right now to try and figure out…best policy practices that could promote, you know, these populations of important pollinators in landscapes,” she said.