Buzz-pollinating bees in Costa Rica

A friend of mine* makes these amazing slow-motion videos of buzz-pollinating bees (head-banging bees!). I could have sworn I’ve done a post about buzz-pollination, but I can’t find it, so I’ll summarize here.

Some flowers have specialized anthers that are fused. This makes it difficult for visiting insects to get pollen from the flower. The flowers are designed this way to limit the amount of pollen predation (insect visitors eating pollen instead of spreading it to other flowers) that occurs on a per visit basis. There is a lot of good work, pioneered by Lawrence Harder**, I think, to show that limiting the amount of pollen removed on a single visit is a good way to reduce pollen predation overall (Jordan and Harder 2006, Aizen and Harder 2007, Hargreaves et al 2009).

One family where this is common is the Solanaceae. This family includes familiar things like tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, potatoes, and deadly nightshade. These flowers have what are called poricidal anthers, meaning the anthers are all fused together and pollen can only escape through small pores.

Insects that want this pollen have to exhibit a particular series of behaviours to get at it. They land on the anther column, bite down with their mandibles, and buzz at a particular frequency.  Only some bees can do this and honeybees are not included.*** Bumblebees are though!  If there are bumblebees in your area (or blue-banded bees for you Aussies), listen to the sound they make as they’re flying, and then the sound they make when they land on a flower that must be buzz-pollinated, like a tomato.  You can actually hear the difference in pitch!

When I first learned about this, it blew my mind, especially because scientists who want to study this effect use a tuning fork at the same frequency (or an electric toothbrush apparently).

All of this background is just so I can set up these photos of bees buzz-pollinating flowers on a solanaceous vine I found in Costa Rica (in San Jose). (The hostel owners gave me no small number of baffled looks as I ran around and around this vine taking photos just after dawn.) If you’re a bee biologist, please help me ID some of these!

Buzz pollination

I only had the chance to snap one photo of this lady…she was super fast! I don’t know the species, but I think it’s interesting that, instead of head banging, you can see her abdomen is the part that is moving!

Buzz pollination

An Augochlorini, I think

Buzz pollination

This is a Euglossine bee in the genus Eufriesia (not one of my shiny Euglossa, but still beautiful!) and I never knew they could buzz pollinate!

Buzz pollination

Buzz pollination

Buzz pollination

Buzz pollination

Buzz pollination

Buzz pollination

This is a carpenter bee (Xylocopa), and you can actually see the pollen grains falling as she buzzes

Buzz pollination

Buzz pollination

Buzz pollination

*Maybe acquaintance is more accurate

**Lawrence Harder does a lot of cool work, which I have long been enamored with, but I met him and once he found out I had worked with networks, he turned his back to me and never spoke to me again.  Oh well *shrug*

***Wait, wait, doesn’t this mean honeybees are NOT effective pollinators of tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants, and peppers (and blueberries and cranberries)…hmmmmm

Buzz pollination

Thanks for reading!

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22 thoughts on “Buzz-pollinating bees in Costa Rica

  1. “**Lawrence Harder does a lot of cool work, which I have long been enamored with, but I met him and once he found out I had worked with networks, he turned his back to me and never spoke to me again.”

    What’s so bad about working with networks? Do you mean computer networks? Or secret evil underground networks?

  2. Wow, I learned lots of new things from this post. I have been trying to discourage carpenter bees from my property because they have damaged our wood-sided house and I thought they were not extensive pollinators. But I do grow tomatoes, eggplants, etc. in my garden.

    Buzz pollination. Who knew? (Well, who besides entymologists knew…) Totally cool, and I will now listen to my bees much more closely.

  3. Pingback: Fuzzy Euglossine bees: Eufriesia | standingoutinmyfield

  4. Pingback: Can we talk about this Cheerios thing? | standingoutinmyfield

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