Hungry bumblebees bite leaves to stimulate flowering

(ORDO NEWS) — Despite its tiny brain, bumblebees are exceptionally developed insects. They exhibit very complex behaviors, including the ability to learn and even play football.

The authors of the new work – scientists from France and Switzerland – showed that at least three species of bumblebees bite leaves from time to time, gnawing small pieces, and do this the more often the more hungry they become.

Observations showed that plants actively react to such an effect and begin to bloom faster – sometimes several weeks earlier than their “uncouth” neighbors. Thus, insects can provide food to offspring even in early spring, when resources are still insufficient. This was reported in an article published in the journal Science.

This was the first time that a scientist from the French National Institute for Agricultural Research Foteini Paschalidou, who observed bumblebees Bombus terrestris, drew attention to this behavior. Local farmers also reported it, although in the scientific literature this nibble has not yet been described. To better study it, biologists conducted experiments in the laboratory with bumblebees B. terrestris and mustard and tomato plants.

The insects, locked together with the plants, really left holes on the leaves, and after three days without nutritious pollen they did it noticeably more often than the same bumblebees under ordinary conditions, having complete freedom to collect food. Moreover, scientists noticed that bumblebees and two other species that showed exactly the same behavior flew up to plants that were located next to the freely flying B. terrestris.

Bites affected the plants themselves. In the laboratory, tomatoes that were bitten five to ten times bloomed a month earlier than intact plants, and mustard 16 days earlier. This in itself is not surprising: many plants accelerate flowering in response to stress, including the appearance of leaf-eating insects.

However, when scientists tried to confirm this effect by inflicting minor damage on the leaves with a razor, nothing happened. Apparently, the plants somehow recognize the nature of insect bites – however, this remains to be seen.


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