We didn’t know until just recently how bees stick to flower petals like velcro. Katrina Alcorn, Heather Whitney and Beverley Glover at the Universities of Cambridge and Bristol just published their research in the British Ecological Society’s journal Functional Ecology that explains just how bees stick to flower petals like velcro, even in windy conditions.
The study focuses on special cells found on the surface of petals, whose stunning structure is best seen under an electron microscope. According to lead author, Dr Beverley Glover: “Many of our common garden flowers have beautiful conical cells if you look closely – roses have rounded conical petal cells while petunias have really long cells, giving petunia flowers an almost velvety appearance, particularly visible in the dark-coloured varieties. ” Glover’s group previously discovered that when offered snapdragons with conical cells and a mutant variety without these cells, bees prefer the former because the conical cells help them grip the flower. “It’s a bit like Velcro, with the bee claws locking into the gaps between the cells,” she explains.
Glover said she understood why the conical cells help bees on snapdragons because it is difficult for the bees to get at the nectar. She wondered what the conical cells were for on flowers that were much easier for bees to get at the nectar. She hypothesized that it might be that they help bees stay attached to the flower in windy conditions.
Using two types of petunia, one with conical cells and a mutant line with flat cells, Glover let a group of bumblebees that had never seen petunias before forage in a large box containing both types of flower, and discovered they too preferred the conical-celled flowers. They then devised a way of mimicking the way flowers move in the wind. “We used a lab shaking platform that we normally use to mix liquids, and put the flowers on that. As we increased the speed of shaking, mimicking increased wind speed, the bees increased their preference for the conical-celled flowers,” she says.
Thanks to Glover’s research, we now know what a wonderful interactive relationship exists between pollinators and flowers. I guess you have to be a bee to appreciate conical cells, but when the wind blows and I see a bee on a flower, I will know why bees stick to flower petals like velcro. To read the rest of this article, click here or on the link below. Tell us what you think and like us on Facebook.