How you and me and flowers and bees get charged up with static electricity

Image of girl with static electricity in hair.

(North Country Public Radio) The field of electric ecology: The surface of the earth, and the flowers growing from it, tend to have a more negative charge. Bees are moving and flying around, and tend to be more positive. So just like your hair with a balloon, the hairs on a bumble bee or honey bee tend to bend towards a flower in the presence of its static field. This helps guide the bee into the flower. Honey bees even seem to carry an indication of the flower’s charge back to their hive, helping to communicate the location of target flowers to hive mates.

Water lily genome expands picture of the early evolution of flowering plants

Image of purple water lily.

(Penn State) The newly reported genome sequence of a water lily sheds light on the early evolution of angiosperms. Water lilies have been important to scientists because of their position near the base of the evolutionary tree of all flowering plants. Scientists are interested in the water lily genome to help understand how traits like big showy colorful flowers and floral scents, both of which serve to attract pollinators, have evolved.

UK insects struggling to find a home make a bee-line for foreign plants

Image of Burnet moth on non-native flower.

(University of York) Researchers at the University of York discovered that foreign plants – often found in gardens and parks – were supporting communities of British insects, including pollinators. For example, solitary bees were found visiting the flowers of non-native agave-leaved sea holly plants. Not surprisingly, however, the greatest numbers and diversity of insects were typically found on native plant species. “It is important to ensure that at least a third of plants are native, as the research suggests that these plants provide the best home for most insects. However, the presence of some non-native plants may help provide a home for unusual or rare British insects that may be struggling to find a home on our native plants.”

When did flowers reach Australia?

Image of rock layers.

(University of Melbourne) New research has revealed that Australia’s oldest flowering plants are 126 million years old and may have resembled modern magnolias, buttercups and laurels. Angiosperm pollen produced by the oldest flowers was recovered from numerous sites across Victoria indicating the large areal extent of flowers during the Early Cretaceous period.

What makes ornamental flowers attractive to pollinators?

Image of bee foraging on flower.

(Entomology Today) When it comes to flowers, the traits humans prefer – things like low pollen production, brighter colors, and changes to the height and shape of plants – are a mixed bag for pollinators. Researchers are now trying to understand what characteristics make ornamental plants attractive to pollinators. “I think this research is an important step to understanding how to design urban and suburban landscapes that are practical for humans and pollinators.”

Flower parts adapt at different rates to different pollinators

Image of Ecuadorian flower.

(Universität Wien) Although several studies have documented that pollinators can impose strong selection pressures on flowers, our understanding of how flowers diversify remains fragmentary. For example, does the entire flower adapt to a pollinator, or do only some flower parts evolve to fit a pollinator while other flower parts may remain unchanged?

Nectar is a sweet reward filled with toxic deterrents

Image of bumble bees on training flower.

(Bowdoin) Nectar, the sweet reward that entices bees to visit flowers, is a complex substance made up of several ingredients, including sucrose, fructose, amino acids, yeasts—and toxic compounds that normally deter insects from eating plants. One researcher is exploring this contradiction and what it might mean for the health of bees.

Pollinator friendliness can extend beyond early spring

Image of honey be on hyacinth.

(EurekAlert/American Society for Horticultural Science) “Establishing a season-long succession of flowers is critical in providing forage for pollinating insects throughout the growing season, which coincides with their life cycles. We observed pollinator activity on species of Crocus and Muscari from January to March, providing honey bees with pollen and nectar during normal times of severe food shortage.”