Stop Thief!

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Full Screen Image – Bohemian Cuckoo Bumblebee, Glen Convinth, Highland Scotland ©Nick Sidle

There is a crime wave sweeping the countryside and a new report from the University of Stirling aims to bring it to our attention. The team at Stirling led by Dr Mario Vallejo-Marin, an evolutionary biologist, indict some bees for taking pollen from flowers without acting as effective pollinators in return, which as far as the plant is concerned, is rather the point of the arrangement. It’s a bit like having a meal at a restaurant and leaving without paying – theft. Just like restaurants, plants try and put security measures in place to make sure this doesn’t happen, for example by having structures designed to only allow a bee to reach the pollen after they have provided a cross pollination service in the flower. Bees however have tried to get back to getting a free lunch by finding ways to open up the protective structures, such as by producing the right frequency of buzzing sound, and the study shows that this can mean in some flowers that 80% of visiting bees collected pollen but failed to brush up against the female parts of the flower and so were of very little use to the plant in return.

University of Stirling – Threat posed by pollen thief bees

The system does still work overall, and without bees plants and people would be in a lot of trouble, but this study throws a new light on how it is a much more complex interaction and not always fair in the outcome.

Nick

Scotland’s Insects and Arachnids Gallery

Glen Convinth

Bohemian Cuckoo Bumblebee – Bombus bohemicus