Hear bee, make nectar
Not only can plants ‘hear’, but they can rapidly respond to certain sounds, new research has shown.1
When a recording of the sound of a bee buzzing nearby was played back to evening primrose flowers, they began producing sweeter nectar. Within only three minutes from first sound exposure (i.e. the time researchers had to wait to collect the quantity of new nectar required for their measuring equipment to work), the concentration of sugar in the nectar increased by ~20% on average. Bees can discern concentration differences as small as 1–3%, so even allowing for old nectar diluting the newer product, it would still be a significant incentive for bees to more regularly visit flowers of that species—and to stay longer when they do, increasing the chances of pollination.
The researchers found that the sound of buzzing bees caused the flower to vibrate, whereas removal of most of the petals lessened flower vibration. This suggests a key role of the flower, particularly the petals, in directly receiving, or at least enhancing reception of, the bees’ sound. I.e. the flower functions like an ‘ear’, say the researchers.
The point of all this? As the researchers explain, producing high-grade nectar all the time would use a lot of the plant’s resources, and exposed nectar is subject to degradation by microbes. So “a mechanism for timing the production of enhanced reward [for the bees] to a time when pollinators are likely to be present could be highly beneficial for the plant.” Indeed so—a ‘win-win’ for both species.
Of course, the researchers attribute this to evolution. But describing an organism’s hitherto-unrealized feature and its usefulness is not the same thing as explaining its origin. Rather, who’d have ever thought of a flower being akin to an ‘ear’?! Answer: The One the Bible says made the flowers and the bees, and everything else in this mind-bogglingly complex creation that continues to surprise and delight.
References and notes
- Veits, M. and 16 others, Plants hear: Evening primrose flowers rapidly respond to the sound of a flying bee by producing sweeter nectar, bioRxiv.org, 28 Dec 2018. Return to text.