Friday, May 29, 2009

Bumble Bees.

Bumble Bees are not, in fact, one species, but rather a genus. With over 250 species falling under it. Behaviorally, it's pretty much what you'd expect: They live in colonies, they live in nests, etc. They rely heavily on flowers for food, which brings me to why I'm really posting this animal.

I'm going to do something a bit unusual today on the blog. Rather than focus on a specific animal, I'm going to tell you about a relationship between a specific animal and a specific plant. Risque, I know.

The animal: Bumble bees (Bombus spp.)
The Plant: Bee Orchid (Ophrys apifera)

The orchid, located along the southern rim of the Mediterranean (bottom picture), has evolved to look like a bee. Now, orchid flowers generally take on unique shapes that often pair with other animals, but this one stands out. In this case, bees confuse the petal for a female bee, attracting the male to mate. While the bee is struggling to mate, the motion allows the orchid to drop pollen all over the bee's body, sending the bee away with a little present for the next orchid it is tricked into mating with.

Evolution has selected for petals most resembling bees over time, because obviously the closer the match, the more likely it is to land on it. Sounds simple so far, but remember, these plants are competing with real bees. So beyond just the shape, colors and texture matching with that of bumblebees, they even emit pheromones that female bumble bees emit to attract mates. Crazy, no?

While many orchids have shapes similar to beak shapes, few seem to be as specific to an animal beyond shape. So why bumble bees? Why is competition to win them over advantageous? One word: hair. Unlike beetles, flies, and even other types of bees, bumble bees are fuzzy by all insect standards. That means it can carry more pollen on its hairs and the pollen stays on these bees better than almost any other animal that might visit an orchid.

Finally, here's a video to help you visualize this. It might seem cruel for the bee, but don't worry, they'll live:


  1. GOB: BEES?!?!
    Michael: I don't think Gob's on board.

  2. 1. i was thinking the same Arrested scene.
    2. this was really interesting! I had no idea that this relationship was going on...
    also, question: these are the bees that wont sting me, right? :)
    3. poor little bee. trying so hard.
    thanks, rosh-a-losh!