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Bumblebees' 'Clever Trick' Fools Plants Into Flowering


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Scientists found that when deprived of pollen, bumblebees will nibble on the leaves of flowerless plants to trick them into flowering, sometimes up to 30 days earlier than normal. The BBC reports: Writing in the journal Science, the scientists say they have struggled to replicate the bees' trick in the laboratory. Scientists in Switzerland found that when the bees were deprived of pollen, they started to nibble on the leaves of plants that hadn't yet flowered. The bees used their proboscises and mandibles (mouthparts) to cut distinctively-shaped holes in the leaves. But the creatures didn't eat the material or use it in their nests. The damaged plants responded by blooming earlier than normal - in some cases up to 30 days ahead of schedule. When the researchers tried to emulate the damage done to the plants by the bumblebees they weren't able to achieve the same results. The bee-damaged plants flowered 30 days earlier than undamaged plants and 25 days earlier than ones damaged by the scientists. The research team believes there may be something else going on here apart from nibbles. [...] The researchers say that when pollen is available the bees don't damage plants. They've also found this behavior is in wild bees. However the team are keeping an open mind on whether the plants might be the ones in the driving seat. It could be that some plants have evolved a strategy to push out their flowers when they recognize the bee doing damage to their leaves.

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