Friday, June 22, 2012

Bee-learned, not Bee-clowned: White-tailed Bumble Bee vs Globeflower

Bombus moderatus thinking about food
What does one do when a week of lectures need to be revised, a paper finished, hundreds of identifications proposed, dinner cooked, and a host of other chores gathers on the horizon? Why watch bees learn, of course.
The examination begins
Without flowers, flowering plants would have no offspring, or what they had would be monotonously similar clones from generation to generation. Ergo, one might assume that those plants that require insects for pollination would not be shy about initiating the mating dance. But many flowers seem to be of two minds, proclaiming 'here I am, come get me' but providing no obvious means of ingress. Bottle Gentians are one well known example of such coy flowers, and the European Globeflower seems to be another.
And she's in!
But things may not be all that they seem. In Finland and the European Alps, the Globeflower has been shown to have an obligate pollination relationship with Globeflower Flies (Chiastocheta spp., Anthomyiidae). Both sexes of the flies penetrate the flower, females lay eggs, and the resulting maggots eat the globeflower seeds. Globeflower must feed many of its offspring to maggots to ensure that some survive. That's all well and good (if creepy) in Europe, but how about in the Home Bug Garden where horticultural varieties of globeflower abound, but the flies seem to have missed the boat? One of the great advantages of bumble bees (Bombus spp.) as pollinators is that they can learn to pollinate even the most indifferent of flowers from beans to buzz pollinated peppers to bottled gentians to horticultural globeflowers.

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