Bumble bee visits a fritillary

Jun 25, 2010 by Roelof Kleis

Bumble bees can see which fritillary has the most nectar. Pollination by the bees protects plants against moulds.

Queen bumble bees never fail to find the flower with the most in a field full of snake's head fritillaries. They can also see whether there is any nectar at all, and whether anyone has got there before them. 'And there really isn't a cross on the outside of the flower', jokes researcher Albert Corporaal of Alterra, who is working on his thesis on the fritillary in the changing delta landscape.

Corporaal found out how the bumble bees do it. Only eye-catching fritillaries are honoured with a visit. And what makes them eye-catching is ultraviolet and infrared light rays, which are just outside the spectrum visible to humans. 'the degree of reflection give the bumble bee information', explains Corporaal. 'The more intensely the outside of the flower reflects infrared, the more interesting it is to the bee. The bee sees it as a bright white object against an otherwise grey background. That brightness tells her: come over here.'

Cumbersome body

But it doesn't stop there. The checked pattern on the sepals confirms the message once the bee gets closer. Corporaal: 'Half of the time, the flowers dance lightly in the breeze. The insect's eye detects fast movements, and a moving checked pattern like that is striking.'

And so the bumble bee sees where it should go. 'Landing information', Corporaal calls it. To assist in the landing itself, the end of each sepal is equipped with a sort of hook that works as a landing place. The bumble bee grabs hold it it and wriggles its cumbersome body into the flower. There the reflected provides a sort of miner's lamp to guide the bee to the nectar. The bumble bee's visit is literally vital to the fritillary, says Corporaal. It means and a longer lifespan. 'Pollinated flowers live a month longer above the ground. And the pollination provides it with protection against life-threatening fungal infections which would otherwise hinder seeding.'

The bumble bee is oblivious to this complex relationship that has come about through co-evolution. Yet it is a relationship that is causing the decline of the fritillary. Because the bumble bee population of the Netherlands is in decline. Corporaal thinks this is due to the increasing amounts of road traffic. 'This has happened in the last few years. Heavy traffic takes its toll. And fewer bumble bees means less pollination and therefore fewer fritillaries that survive the fungi.'

Explore further: Bee-flies and false widow spiders top Museum enquiry

Provided by Wageningen University

not rated yet
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Franklin's bumble bee may be extinct

May 26, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Native pollinator specialist Robbin Thorp, emeritus professor of entomology at the University of California, Davis, just returned from a scientific trip to southern Oregon and Northern California ...

Bee species outnumber mammals and birds combined

Jun 11, 2008

Scientists have discovered that there are more bee species than previously thought. In the first global accounting of bee species in over a hundred years, John S. Ascher, a research scientist in the Division of Invertebrate ...

Flight of the bumble (and honey) bee

Mar 20, 2009

Insects such as honeybees and bumble bees are predictable in the way they move among flowers, typically moving directly from one flower to an adjacent cluster of flowers in the same row of plants. The bees' ...

Asian bees threaten Australia

Jun 15, 2007

Four swarms of Asian bees found in Cairns, Australia, may pose a serious threat to the country's honey bee population.

Recommended for you

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

4 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

More vets turn to prosthetics to help legless pets

7 hours ago

A 9-month-old boxer pup named Duncan barreled down a beach in Oregon, running full tilt on soft sand into YouTube history and showing more than 4 million viewers that he can revel in a good romp despite lacking ...

Chimpanzees prefer firm, stable beds

17 hours ago

Chimpanzees may select a certain type of wood, Ugandan Ironwood, over other options for its firm, stable, and resilient properties to make their bed, according to a study published April 16, 2014 in the open-access ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

Biologists help solve fungi mysteries

(Phys.org) —A new genetic analysis revealing the previously unknown biodiversity and distribution of thousands of fungi in North America might also reveal a previously underappreciated contributor to climate ...

Cosmologists weigh cosmic filaments and voids

(Phys.org) —Cosmologists have established that much of the stuff of the universe is made of dark matter, a mysterious, invisible substance that can't be directly detected but which exerts a gravitational ...