Flowers need bees. A bee’s job is to move pollen from one bloom to another; plants pay for the bee’s service with sweet nectar. Cunningly, some bees have found a way to get a paycheck without the work.
Carpenter bees (Xylocopa sp.) exhibit a behavior called “nectar theft.” Rather than reaching the base of the flower through its opening (and getting a pollen dusting in the process), robber bees bite a hole in the base of the flower to slurp up nectar, bypassing the pollen-yielding anthers entirely.
We can’t necessarily blame them though, as it may be the plant’s own darn fault. Flowers with long tube-like bases are more likely to get robbed since the brawny carpenter bees can’t reach the nectar any other way (1). This relationship may even keep the flower tubes shorter over evolutionary time, since short flowers are more likely to be pollinated (and less likely to be robbed).
In order to deter break-ins, some flowers have evolved thicker flower walls, new toxins, or even special relationships with animal “special forces.” Some tropical flowers produce extra nectar in a special chamber for ants, who act like police in stopping the robber bees (2).
P.S. The bees I watched for this sketch were upstanding citizens – no thievery going on here!
P.S.S. It’s a girl! This bee’s got a black face. Males have a large patch of white on their faces. (http://www.uark.edu/ua/arthmuse/carpbee.html)
- Navarro L and R Mendel. 2009. Relationship between floral tube length and nectar robbing in Duranta erecta L. (Verbenaceae). Biological Journal of the Linnean Society. 96 (2) 392-398.
- Gerling D, HHW Velthuis, and A Hefetz. 1989. Bionomics of the Large Carpenter Bees of the Genus Xylocopa. Annual Review of Entomology. 34:163-190.
Beautifully done! Informative, as always. And one of my favorite flowers!
Thanks so much!
Wow, so much cool new information crammed into one brief post! And your upstanding citizen bee is totally adorable.
Thanks so much! I learn a lot from these posts. I’m glad to know people are out there reading them. 🙂
Thanks for the interesting article on the bees. Nice illustration!
Thank you, Karen! I wish I could attend the conference this year to thank you in person. Next year!
Sorry you’re going to miss it! I can’t afford to go every year myself-but couldn’t resist the redwoods and the ocean 🙂
Beautiful drawing, so full of life, yet still accurate.