Pollinator series

Pollinators: Vertebrates

Written by Thary Gazi Goh
Photos by Shang Ming & Syuhada Sapno

In this final article in our series on pollinators we look at pollinators with a backbone.


Birds that feed on nectar typically have long narrow beaks. Sometimes they supplement their diet with insects as well, often other pollinators. 

Sunbird and its nest

Typically, sunbirds and spiderhunters make up most bird pollinators in Malaysia. These small, energetic birds can often be seen in gardens where there are the types of flowers that they can feed on.

Examples: Olive-backed sunbird, Brown-throated sunbird, Little spiderhunter, Scarlet-backed flowerpecker.

Flower structure: Birds are often attracted to large and yellow, orange or reddish flowers. Usually, these flowers open during the day, are odourless and tube-shaped with a large reservoir of dilute nectar at the bottom. 

Plants that they pollinate: African Tulip, Crepe ginger, Hibiscus.


Flying at night, fruit bats are a constant presence in urban areas but barely noticed. Fruit bats have long, doglike faces, and they rely primarily on their sight to navigate in the dark, unlike insect-feeding bats that use echolocation.

Fruit bats hanging from ceiling

Fruit bats primarily feed on fruit, but can also pollinate trees that are specialised in bat pollination. Often, these bats fly over long distances from their roosts to feed on flower and fruits, and they are incredibly efficient pollinators for important crops such as durians. The bats lick the dilute nectar of these flowers up with their long tongues, and the pollen gets caught on their fur as they do so. 

A documentary by The Rimba Project. Led by bat researcher VC Lim, The Rimba Project seeks out bats in the city. Filmed on location at the University of Malaya’s Jalan Elmu and Lorong Universiti bungalows.

Examples: Horsfield’s fruit bat, Malayan flying fox

Flower structure: Often, these flowers bloom at night, are large in size, have a lot of dilute nectar, and have large amounts of pollen.

Plants that they pollinate: Durian, Petai.