The cost of long tongues

Apr 16, 2007
Orchid bee Eulaema
Orchid bee Eulaema. Credit: G. Dimijian

Orchid bees use their extraordinarily long tongues to drink nectar from the deep, tropical flowers only they can access. Researchers have long suspected that this kind of exclusive access came with a mechanical cost.

According to common sense and a classic law of fluid mechanics, it's just plain hard to suck thick, viscous nectars up through a long straw. Now, Brendan Borrell at the University of California, Berkeley has confirmed this prediction for the first time: orchid bees with long tongues suck up their nectars more slowly than bees with shorter tongues.

Borrell spent three years collecting bees in forests all over Costa Rica and Panama and measuring their feeding rates at artificial flowers. He found that the smallest bees sometimes had the longest tongues and the largest bees sometimes had the shortest tongues. But after taking into account all that variation in body size, he says long tongues really do impose a mechanical cost on bees.

Everyone knows just how busy bees can be, but orchid bees are basically sacrificing speed at flowers for exclusive access to them. Borrell thinks this may be because the rewards at these flowers can be tremendous, up to ten times the quanity of nectar provided by typical bee flowers.

Source: University of Chicago

Explore further: From dandruff to deep sea vents, an ecologically hyper-diverse fungus

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hitchhiking robot reaches journey's end in Canada

35 minutes ago

A chatty robot with an LED-lit smiley face sent hitchhiking across Canada this summer as part of a social experiment reached its final destination Thursday after several thousand kilometers on the road.

Microsoft to unveil new Windows software

50 minutes ago

A news report out Thursday indicated that Microsoft is poised to give the world a glimpse at a new-generation computer operating system that will succeed Windows 8.

Ecologists team up to buy Texas bayside ranch

52 minutes ago

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation and partners have announced the purchase of a sprawling southeast Texas ranch with funds put aside after the BP oil spill.

Climate change: meteorologists preparing for the worst

1 hour ago

Intense aerial turbulence, ice storms and scorching heatwaves, huge ocean waves—the world's climate experts forecast apocalyptic weather over the coming decades at a conference in Montreal that ended Thursday.

Security event to learn about side-channel attacks on PCs

12 minutes ago

A paper to be presented at next month's Workshop on Cryptographic Hardware and Embedded Systems (CHES) in Busan, South Korea, will discuss physical side-channel attacks on laptop computers, in findings from ...

Recommended for you

Pollen on birds shows feeding grounds

19 minutes ago

Encrusted pollen on migrating birds' heads can shed light on where they've taken a break from migration to refuel, scientists say.

Researchers look at small RNA pathways in maize tassels

59 minutes ago

Researchers at the University of Delaware and other institutions across the country have been awarded a four-year, $6.5 million National Science Foundation grant to analyze developmental events in maize anthers ...

How plant cell compartments change with cell growth

1 hour ago

A research team led by Kiminori Toyooka from the RIKEN Center for Sustainable Resource Science has developed a sophisticated microscopy technique that for the first time captures the detailed movement of ...

Plants can 'switch off' virus DNA

1 hour ago

A team of virologists and plant geneticists at Wageningen UR has demonstrated that when tomato plants contain Ty-1 resistance to the important Tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV), parts of the virus DNA ...

A better understanding of cell to cell communication

2 hours ago

Researchers of the ISREC Institute at the School of Life Sciences, EPFL, have deciphered the mechanism whereby some microRNAs are retained in the cell while others are secreted and delivered to neighboring ...

User comments : 0