Those Who Drink Nectar

The world of plants and pollen is a grand one, covering all land on earth. Without pollinators we would not have plants, and without plants we would not have food. Here are a few of the beauties who drink nectar.

Birds, bats, bees, moths, butterflies, other insects and some small mammals consume nectar. By dipping into a flower head they are consuming the nectar and subsequently spreading the pollen that is stuck to their body, thereby pollinating.

Current sources say that 1 out of 3 bites of food we humans eat is due to a successful pollinator.

More info

Wikipedia Nectarivore and Wikipedia Nectar

Although there are many different kinds of nectar-feeders, or nectarivores, the majority are birds and insects.

Of the birds, there are three types who do most of the nectar drinking: hummingbirds, sunbirds and honeyeaters. Their bills are shaped for probing flowers; and their kidneys and digestive systems can absorb and break down sugar faster.

Hummingbirds. There are over 300 species in the world, and they all live in the Western Hemisphere.

In this photo, you can see pollen on the tip of the hummingbird’s bill. This punk-rocking hummingbird got what he set out to get.

Sunbirds. From the family Nectariniidae, sunbirds live in the Old World. Even their family name has the word “nectar” in it.

Many nectarivores, like this sunbird below, have a curved bill, perfect for reaching deep into a flower.

Honeyeaters. The honeyeater family is a large one, and includes 190 species of birds primarily in Australia and New Guinea. Notice the bill of this yellow-faced honeyeater, it is slightly down-curved to reach the pollen.

It is not just the hummingbirds, sunbirds, and honeyeaters who drink nectar. Other bird species also drink sweet flower nectar.

The honeycreeper species is endemic to Hawaii. You can see this Apapane, a honeycreeper, has a down-curved bill for foraging pollen.

Parrots have sticky tongues for reaching the nectar.

There are also many insects who drink nectar, primarily butterflies, moths and bees. They have a specialized feature for reaching into the flower called a proboscis.

You can see the dark proboscis on each of these two insects, below.

In this Painted Lady butterfly photo, you can see the white club-shaped antenna pointed upward, and the brown proboscis is curved downward at a 90 degree angle into a flower.

This hummingbird moth’s proboscis extends into the honeysuckle flower.

Insects who do not have a proboscis, like ants and beetles, crawl into the flower for their sweet treat.

Because nectar is a super sweet concentration of three kinds of sugar (sucrose, glucose, fructose), most nectarivores supplement their diet with protein (i.e. insects).

Similarly, butterflies use their proboscises to extract salts and amino acids from mud puddles, a process dubbed puddling.

Some small mammals drink nectar, too.

Bats are extremely important for pollinating plants on our planet. The largest bats in the world, flying foxes, are one of my favorite bat species. We saw numerous species in Australia.

They have tiny hairs on the end of their tongues to mop up nectar.

Across the world in Trinidad, the long-tongued bat uses its especially long tongue to reach far into the tropical flowers for nectar. We found these opportunistic long-tongued bats at the hummingbirds’ nectar feeder.

Another mammal who drinks nectar is the sugar glider.

A nocturnal arboreal mammal found in the rainforests of Australia, these marsupials have gliding membranes that extend from their forelegs to hindlegs, allowing them to fly from tree to tree evading predators and foraging for food. They are opportunistic feeders and have a large, varied diet including nectar and pollen.

Birds, butterflies, small mammals and even big mammals like humans, we like our sweets.

In a world that doesn’t always feel so sweet, it is fortunate we have nectar and pollinators.

Written by Jet Eliot.

Photos by Athena Alexander.

87 thoughts on “Those Who Drink Nectar

  1. Breath-taking photos, as usual, and a fascinating account of nectarivores. Informative, too. I wasn’t aware of sugar gliders, for example, but all of these wonderful creatures are essential for a healthy planet, and I certainly appreciate your programs here. Thanks so much, Jet.

    • There’s always something new to learn about our natural world, as you know, Walt. And what a joy it is to share some of the wonders of nectar with you, Walt. I’m glad I could introduce the sugar glider to you. They’re really cool animals when you can see them, but when it is dark and the lights are out, it’s a little unsettling to have them flying around you. lol. I’m glad you enjoyed the nectarivore post today. I’m still jazzed about your findings and adventures in CR. Hope your weekend is lovely.

    • Dear Jet Eliot,

      I am inclined to agree with Walt Franklin, for I have also very much enjoyed reading your post featuring many excellent photos of nectar-feeding birds and insects. Thank you.

      You certainly have a fascination with the nectarivore, defined as “an animal which derives its energy and nutrient requirements from a diet consisting mainly or exclusively of the sugar-rich nectar produced by flowering plants.”

      Dr Craig Eisemann and I co-wrote a post entitled “Do Plants and Insects Coevolve? 🥀🐝🌺🦋” published at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2016/08/17/do-plants-and-insects-coevolve/

      The post also explains and features a lot of nectarivores. We would be interested if you would like to consider contributing some of your photos or even certain story about specific example(s) of insect-plant coevolution.

      Happy September to you!

      Wishing both you and Walt a productive weekend doing or enjoying whatever that satisfies you the most!

      Yours sincerely,
      SoundEagle

      • Hi SoundEagle, thanks for you message today, and I’m glad you enjoyed the nectar and nectarivore post. You can reach me via email on the “Contact” tab of my site for further discussion if you wish. Thanks very much.

      • Dear Jet Eliot,

        You are very welcome. I would recommend using a desktop or laptop computer with a large screen to view the rich multimedia contents available for heightening your multisensory enjoyment at my blog, which could be too powerful and feature-rich for iPad, iPhone, tablet or other portable devices to handle properly or adequately.

        Furthermore, since my intricate blog contains advanced styling and multimedia components plus animations, it is advisable to avoid using the WordPress Reader, which cannot show many of the advanced features in my posts and pages. Instead, read the posts and pages directly in my blog so that you will be able to savour and relish all of the refined and glorious details.

        I look forward to interacting with you more, not to mention that I like how you express yourself.

        May you find the rest of 2021 very much to your liking and highly conducive to your writing, reading, thinking and composing whatever posts that take your intellectual fancy or show off your imaginative flight!

        Yours sincerely,
        SoundEagle

    • Dear Sylvia, thanks so much, it’s wonderful to have you stop by. I’m glad you liked that sentence. I worked more on that sentence than any other sentence in the essay. Conclusions are important. Thanks so very much. I hope you find some sweetness this weekend….

    • I’m happy you enjoyed the nectar post and photos today, Timothy. It was really fun to put together. Flowers, birds, butterflies, bees–they’re wonderful subjects. Thank you.

    • Yes, you’re right, Craig. Many of these creatures are indeed in trouble. So I’m glad you enjoyed my salute and Athena’s photos dedicated to the beauty of nectar and nectarivores. I hope your weekend is a sweet one.

    • I imagine you’re hitting the honey jar today, Sherry, with all the talk of nectar here. 😉 Thanks so very much for stopping by, it’s always a pleasure to “see” you.

  2. Such a sweet post Jet! I do enjoy when I see these little pollinators feeding, or sometimes immersing themselves into the nectar! It is hilarious how the bumble bees are getting “dirty” with nectar😀
    I didn’t know the butterflies need salts and amino acids.. now this explains why they are seen sometimes on the ground🙂
    Have a lovely weekend!!

    • I, too, really love seeing the insects rolling around inside the flower, Christie, getting yellow from the pollen. And the butterflies and their need for salts; yes, it does explain why they are seen on the ground sometimes. And also why sometimes they will land on a person. They like the salt from sweat. Thanks very much.

  3. Very interesting! I didn’t realize there were so many different kinds of nectarivores. Athena’s photos are spectacular at catching them in action! We have Mexican Petunia bushes on our back patio that attract MANY nectarivores – hummingbirds, butterflies, bees. It is delightful to watch. And the plants shed their blossoms almost every evening – only to have fresh ones appear by the next morning. They keep the nectar coming, I guess!

    • It sure is a delight to watch our lovely creatures dipping into the plants, and your Mexican Petunia bushes sound like they are loaded with pollen, Nan. Interesting that each evening they shed their blossoms and then fresh ones appear the next morning. I can imagine that makes for super fresh pollen. I guess it’s like going to the bakery every morning…yum. My warmest thanks and love for your visit and interest, dear Nan.

  4. The tufted coquette wins the internet – again! What a sweet delight this post was, Jet – thank you, to you and Athena for entertaining and educating us. Always great to leave here smiling, and remembering beyond the headlines about human caused misery, the world can be quite wonderful. Enjoy your long eekend!

    • Hi Steve, I’m glad you liked the flying fox’s tongue photo. I just think that one is SO cool. The bats were about 20′ above us in a tree in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens. We were absolutely mesmerized with them. Athena kept snapping away and we didn’t see the tongue until we got it on the computer for details. As an excellent outdoor photographer yourself, you can no doubt relate to the details that surface after you come indoors and review the photos. Thanks so much for your wonderful visit, I always enjoy your comments, Steve.

  5. Lovely photos and post, A & J! Feeding pollinators is a big part of my motivation to garden, certainly affecting the choices of plants I grow. It gives me so much pleasure watching them feed– the buzz and hum of bees, whizzing hummers to flitting butterflies. They enliven the gardening experience.
    Have a great long weekend, hope you get good weather!

    • Ahhh, so nice to hear from a nature gardener about the joy of our nectarivores. You describe the creatures in your garden well and how they add to the scene. And you bring up a good point, which is the importance of creating garden space for our nectar-drinking friends. Many thanks, Eliza.

    • Yes, I agree, Jan, the flying foxes really are fascinating. They’re so big, too, they are easier to see, and they roost in trees so it is easier to see them when it is daytime. Thanks so much for your visit today, much appreciated.

  6. Had no idea that there are so many nectar slurpers. All of them looked sweet except those red fox bats — they looked scary. Would love to see the Apapane

    • Yes, it is interesting to see such a long list and big variety of those who drink nectar, I agree, Bill. The flying foxes are a little scary-looking, but they are not aggressive to humans. And the apapane can still be seen on all the major Hawaiian Islands, so the next time you are on Oahu, I suggest looking up with the local Audubon website as to where they spot them. They’re always in the high altitudes. Many thanks, dear Bill, for your visit and interest.

  7. Beautiful photos, Athena, and enjoyed the commentary/information, Jet. Those flying foxes look like little aliens. 🙂 Just saw a couple hummingbird moths on our flowers a few day ago but they were moving so fast from flower to flower that it was difficult to get a decent shot. The ones we saw in Illinois on our butterfly bush lingered in each flower, so they were easier to “shoot.”

    Enjoy the weekend.

    janet

    • I agree, Janet, those flying foxes are like little aliens. I’m smiling. The stretchy membranes they have on their wings makes a soft creaking sound when they move, so after awhile you can spot them if you listen very carefully. And how wonderful for you to have recently seen a couple of hummingbird moths. On the very few times I have seen them, I always feel like a magical being has come by. Maybe because they come and go so quickly. Always a pleasure, Janet, thanks so much.

  8. what an interesting read, Jet. i didn’t know bats drink nectars, too. beautiful photographs especially the bat with tongue sticking out! wishing you and Athena lovely three-day weekend! 🙂

  9. A perfect gathering of incredible photos, interesting details, and the right amount
    of facts to give any reader all that they need to set them off on a journey of life.
    Without these nectar feeders, there would be little chance of ordinary survival on Earth.
    Your excellent and thorough presentation gives us all a better understanding of it.
    Thank you Jet! Have a great day, Eddie

    • Dear Eddie, I strive to share the beauties of the world that we can all sometimes take for granted. There are so many miracles in life, that we sometimes don’t even see them after awhile. So it is with great thanks that you recognize my efforts and reach out so kindly to me. You’ve just made my day and it’s only 7:30am. How wonderful is that. Many thanks and lots of hugs to you, dear Eddie.

  10. Hi Jet
    Impressive picture and great text 👍👍
    We will go tomorrow evening on a bat watching walk. We have lots of different kinds of bats here flying around in our garden. The light on our sauna attracts insects, a great meal for them.
    Have a happy weekend
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Thanks for stopping by, Klausbernd. I liked hearing about your numerous bat species–a wonderful thing to have different kinds–and reverence for them. My warm regards to all the Fab Four.

      • Dear Jet,
        we will attend a kind of bat workshop tonight and then I might know. Dina and I did one before just a few steps from our house but I can’t remember. There are pipistrellus bats around here but many other.
        With warm greeting from the sunny sea
        The Fab Four of Cley
        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

  11. The first thing I did after reading your post was head to the kitchen and mix up a batch of sugar water for the hummingbird feeders. I’ve been meaning to get them out, but dallied. It won’t be long until their migration begins, and they’ll begin visiting on a regular basis. We have some flowers that linger until late fall for them to feed from, but a little extra never hurts.

    I was especially taken with the tufted coquette. I don’t remember encountering that one before, and it certainly is an eye-catcher. The bat tongue is splendid; there’s nothing more fun that finding those little details that were unseen in the field, but that shine on a screen.

    • Oh boy, did I ever smile when I read your comment, Linda. I’m so glad my post inspired you to put fresh nectar out for your hummingbirds. And how wonderful to be expecting the migration of hummingbirds. And yes, that tufted coquette is an extra special hummingbird. It is an uncommon bird found mostly in Venezuela and northern Brazil, but occasionally a few can be spotted in Trinidad in the rainforest, which is where we were. There is not a lot known about them. They are tiny and as fast as lightning. We stayed at an eco-lodge deep in the Trinidad rainforest and had the joy of seeing them there, where Athena spent every dawn before breakfast photographing at their favorite flower, Purple Porterweed. Many thanks for your visit and comment, Linda.

  12. What a lovely tribute to pollinators and how unusual to include some mammals too. Although they are of course most important, honey bees tend to get the most press and so its nice to be reminded of the variety of other pollinators too. I enjoyed the photos and the interesting information too. Thanks.

    • Thank you, Carol. I had a good time collecting a variety of nectar-drinking creatures for this post, and I’m happy you enjoyed it. And you’re right, the focus on honey bees is most prevalent, so I thought sharing the spotlight couldn’t hurt. My warmest thanks.

  13. Loved your post, Jet. Chock full of fascinating info. Hits home how important the nectar-drinkers and pollinators are. We must protect them all.
    Wonderful photos…the butterflies are stunning, the flying fox’s tongue is great and the punk hummingbird made me laugh. So enjoyable, all of it! 😀

    • Wonderful to see you, Jane, thanks for your lovely visit. Our pollinators are so important, as you say, and a tribute to the many creatures who keep the pollen flowing was fun to present. I’m glad you enjoyed it, and I really appreciate your kind words.

  14. The beautiful blue (my favorite color) Ulysses Butterfly has got to be the prettiest butterfly I’ve ever seen! Thank you so much for the education on pollinators of the world. I didn’t know that all hummingbirds live in the western hemisphere, or anything about sunbirds and honeyeaters. The tufted coquette does have a very snazzy get-up there. 😉 Loved that picture of the Grey-headed Flying Fox with its tongue sticking out. Amazing!

    • Blue is my favorite color, too, Barbara, and that Ulysses Butterfly was a dazzling charmer. That’s a really big butterfly. In fact, they are bigger than the tufted coquette hummingbird, oddly enough. I’m glad I brought you some new information and that you enjoyed the photos. My warmest thanks.

  15. ‘Puddling ‘ may be my favourite new word! A very cool fact about the butterflies and would perfectly describe small children who seem drawn like magnets to puddles, especially those with muddy bottoms.
    I had no idea about just how much of what we eat requires pollination. One out of three bites. Next time I am eating I’ll be thinking about that.
    Fascinating topic Jet and Athena’s gorgeous photos always a joy to see.

    • Yes, I like that fact too, Sue, “One out of three bites” is due to a pollinator. Glad, too, that you liked the butterflies puddling. I sure enjoyed your visit and delightful comment, Sue, thanks so much for stopping by.

  16. That electric blue butterfly rates a 10! Such a beautiful composition by Athena.
    Oh! then that hummingbird. How utterly lovely.
    Giggles! that punk-rocking hummingbird!

    I could go on…. ☺️
    It’s wonderful how you two had these adventures and can now share the beauty of them to the rest of us.

    • Really fun to read your words today, Gunta, and I am SO glad you enjoyed the many wild wonders we encountered along our adventures. I am hoping we can get back to traveling again soon, but until then, it’s great to share these beauties. I really appreciated your visits today, Gunta, thank you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s