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Bee Blog - December 2020

As we enter December there is little activity from the bees around the hives. We have had some mild and sunny days in November and this has brought forth a lot of activity during some parts of the day. Even on fine days, however, as soon as mid afternoon arrived and the sun and temperature dropped, flights out of the hive stopped and the bees remained snug inside the hives.

I have taken advantage of the mild weather and lockdown to clean and repair bits of bee equipment and prepare for next year. All the usual tasks for this time of year and with plenty of time to carry them out during lockdown.

It has also been a good month for catching up on bee related reading material. It never ceases to amaze me how clever and sophisticated the life of bees is. I was explaining a while ago how well organised bee society appears to be. A lot of research is carried out into the way bee society operates, particularly in North America, but it is a very niche area which is not highly attractive to financial funding.

There has always been a symbiotic relationship between pollinators and plants and research into how plants relate to pollinators is an even more niche area of research. I was surprised to find and interested to read, recent reports of research carried out in Israel where researchers set out to find if plants can detect pollinators in their vicinity.

The reports were published in Ecology Letters. The hypothesis of the researchers was that nectar is expensive for plants to produce and therefore it might be in the plants interests to produce more, or increase its sugar content only when pollinators were nearby.

To make the most efficient use of their resources, the plants would need to have a system of detecting when pollinators were nearby. It is well known that certain plants already have a fast response to a stimulus, such as the Venus Flytrap which springs shut when it detects a fly. The researchers wondered if all plants could sense pollinators and by what means. Vision seemed unlikely but it has been known for sometime that plants can not only detect mechanical vibrations but some can distinguish the difference between caterpillars feeding on the plant and vibrations caused by wind.

The research was carried out on the Beach Evening Primrose and researchers exposed the plant to recordings of hovering bees and synthetic sounds at difference frequencies and to silence. In each case measurements of the production of nectar and its concentration were measured.

The research found that when the plants were exposed to the sound of pollinators or artificial sounds of a similar frequency, nectar production and concentration increased by as much as 20% when compared to the wrong frequency or no noise at all.

Further research by using lasers to monitor the vibration of the flowers suggested that the flowers were “hearing” the pollinators by their petals which were tuned to vibrate in sympathy with the pollinators. If they covered the flowers with a glass jar there was no response. It looks as though plants are able to “hear” with their flowers.

Many people found it amusing some years ago when a certain Prince was reported in the media as someone who “talked” to his flowers. It looks as if he was right all along, plants apparently do listen!