Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Getting a grip: 'Velcro'-like structure helps bees stick to flowers

When bees collect nectar, how do they hold onto the flower? Cambridge University scientists have shown that it is down to small cone-shaped cells on the petals that act like 'velcro' on the bees' feet.

New research, published online in today's Current Biology, shows that bumblebees can recognise the texture of petal surfaces by touch alone. More importantly, they choose to land on petals with conical cells that make it easier to grip, rather than on flat, smooth surfaces. With this extra grip, they can extract nectar from the flower more efficiently.

In the natural world, bees can take visual or olfactory cues without needing to land on the flower itself. Their ability to identify conical-celled surfaces by touch would therefore seem to be of limited use in terms of flower recognition. The researchers, led by Beverley Glover, wondered whether the conical cells play a different role by providing better grip on an otherwise slippery plant surface, thereby making nectar collection easier for the bees.

To test this, the researchers used artificial flowers cast from epoxy resin, half with conical cells and half with flat surfaces. When these casts were horizontal, the bees showed no preference, visiting each type roughly half the time. However, once the angle of the cast increased, so did the bees' preference for the conical cells. When these casts were vertical, the bees visited the conical-celled ones over 60% of the time.

The researchers, who were funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), were able to visualise why the bees preferred conical cells. Using high-speed video photography they saw that when bees attempted to land on the flat-celled epoxy petals they would scramble for grip, rather like a climber struggling to find a foothold on an ice-covered cliff. However, on the conical-celled casts the bees were always able to find grip, stop beating their wings and feed on the flower.

The next step was to establish whether bees in the natural world actually preferred real flowers with conical cells. To test this, the researchers used snapdragon plants, which have conical petal cells, and mutant snapdragons, lacking such cells. When the flowers were horizontal and required little handling the bees would visit the conical-celled flowers 50% of the time. However when the flowers were vertical and required complex handling the bees learnt to recognise the conical-celled flowers and landed on them 74% of the time.

Around 80% of flowers have these conical cells and the researchers believe that all pollinators that land on flowers (such as butterflies, flies and other kinds of bee) may have a preference for petals with a rough surface.

Beverley Glover said: "For bees to maintain their balance and hold onto a flower is no easy task, especially in windy or wet conditions. It's great to see that evolution has come up with the simple solution of equipping flowers with a Velcro-like surface that bees can get a grip on".

For additional information please contact:

Simon Shears, Office of Communications, University of Cambridge
Tel: +44 (0) 1223 332300, +44 (0) 1223 748174

Simon Shears | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Novel mechanisms of action discovered for the skin cancer medication Imiquimod
21.10.2016 | Technische Universität München

nachricht Second research flight into zero gravity
21.10.2016 | Universität Zürich

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Resolving the mystery of preeclampsia

21.10.2016 | Health and Medicine

Stanford researchers create new special-purpose computer that may someday save us billions

21.10.2016 | Information Technology

From ancient fossils to future cars

21.10.2016 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>