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Do Bees Sing to Flowers?

My name is Dino J. Martins, I am a Kenyan entomologist and I love insects. The Kiswahili word for insect is dudu and if you didn’t know already, insects rule the world! Thanks to the amazing efforts of the ‘little things that run the world’ I was humbled to be selected as a National Geographic Emerging Explorer. This blog is a virtual dudu safari through the fascinating world of bugs. Enjoy, leave a comment and send any questions or comments to me through: insects.eanhs@gmail.com

Many greetings. I have been up in the hot and dusty reaches of Turkana in northern Kenya. Most people only hear about this region as a place of drought and suffering. Turkana is also a beautiful, biodiversity-rich and potentially productive place.

Field of eggplant and Doum Palms in Turkana
Field of eggplant and Doum Palms in Turkana

 

I recently visited a pilot farming project in a remote area south of the Turkwel River. This is where the Turkana Basin Institute has been established through the efforts of Dr. Richard Leakey and Stony Brook University. Ikal Angelei is an amazing young woman who is involved in many different things related to the environment, human rights and development in the region. Ikal is working with a local women’s group using simple and sustainable irrigation to grow and produce food.

 

Ikal and freshly picked eggplants from the pilot farm
Ikal and freshly picked eggplants from the pilot farm

One of the crops grown up here is the eggplant or aubergine (Solanum melongena). Eggplants have beautiful pale-purple flowers with fused yellow anthers.

Eggplant is an interesting species in that the flowers require a very special kind of pollination in order to set fruit and produce a yield.

There were several different wild bee species visiting and pollinating the flowers. Here are some photos of them:

Solitary wild bee grapples with an eggplant flower
Solitary wild bee grapples with an eggplant flower
Wild Nomia bee bites the flower to 'buzz' the flower and release pollen
Wild Nomia bee bites the flower to 'buzz' the flower and release pollen

 

While most of the bees visiting the flowers were working hard to release the pollen, a few tiny stingless bees were ‘stealing’ pollen where it had been spilled by the efforts of larger bees. It does seem that even in nature there’s always someone ready to take advantage of others’ hard work!

Stingless bee on an eggplant flower - what is it not doing right?
Stingless bee on an eggplant flower - what is it not doing right?

 

Here are some photos showing the stingless bees taking advantage:

Nomia and Stingless bees come face to face!
Nomia and Stingless bees come face to face!
Macrogalea bee and a stingless bee lurking...
Macrogalea bee and a stingless bee lurking...

 

Thanks to the hard work of the bees and women up here in the ‘desert’ there are beautiful eggplants to harvest!

Healthy, nutritious eggplant thanks to the wild bees!
Healthy, nutritious eggplant thanks to the wild bees!

 

More from the world of bugs soon!

Comments

  1. Folger
    U.S.
    August 15, 2011, 2:33 pm

    Fun, uplifting story! Fascinating that bees could decipher the specific vibration to release the pollen.
    To Ima Ryma. That stingless bee could also known as a “welfare bee”.

  2. Indulkar Shailendra
    India
    August 15, 2011, 5:21 am

    Nice photo story :-)
    thanks

  3. Ima Ryma
    August 15, 2011, 4:52 am

    I’m a bee trying to get by,
    Doing as little as I must.
    Eggplant pollen – hard as I try,
    I can’t pull out that angel dust.
    So I watch other bees do it,
    And sure ‘nuf, pollen falls away.
    So I buzz in and do my bit,
    And snatch that pollen – no delay.
    Of course I must keep on the fly.
    The other bees don’t like my scam.
    I think of me as clean up guy.
    That’s just the kind of bee I am.

    Let the other bees do the work.
    I don’t care if they call me jerk.

  4. Sue
    Virginia, USA
    August 14, 2011, 7:28 pm

    Amazing. Thanks for the education. We need entomologists to remind us that the world does not revolve around us. Our little helpers are so often feared, over looked and under appreciated. In our little corner of the globe I have become increasingly concerned over the decrease in our once abundant butterfly population. Along with the butterfly population decline I’ve noticed a decrease in the number of wasps and bees on our fennel and other flowers. Using an unscientific method of merely asking other people at random if they have noticed this I have received an initial quizzical look followed by , “Now that you mention it, I haven’t seen as many…” Something’s going on. It is ominous. We need to find out what.

  5. NYC Beekeeping
    New York City
    August 14, 2011, 9:11 am

    Thanks for the wonderful story!