Why are Bees Attracted to Flowers?

By now, you all must have understood the regular drill of bees satiating their hunger by sucking on the sweet nectar that they get from fresh flowers. After the bees feed on the nectar from these flowers, they store some of the nectar in their bellies and take it back to their bee-hives.

Here, an enzyme in their stomach converts the nectar to diluted honey, which is then stored in the maze’s comb cells, where the water is made to evaporate. Honey is not the only thing that bees provide us. The food we eat every day is a product of pollination undertaken by the bees. Around 90% of the food that we intake is a product of the hard work of bees.

Yes, bees are indeed attracted to flowers because of the nectar they produce. Still, the burning question is, ‘Do physical characteristics in flowers attract the bees to them?’ The answer to this is YES. Physical characteristics of a flower that constitutes its structural characteristics like shape, colour, and texture play a significant role in attracting pollinators.

The structural characteristics in a flower that attract bees

pola majcherczyk Ml2ylDUGVBw unsplash
Photo by Chase Baker on Unsplash

Earlier, it was believed that the chemical properties and reaction in flowers attract bees to induce pollination.

However, recent studies have shown that physical characteristics like the texture, size, and shape of the flower also invite pollinators to come and feast on the flowers.

In the structural composition, the corolla is responsible for attracting pollinators. It is known to emit an enchanting smell, and the grip-like texture allows for a smooth pollination process.

Here are some of the structural characteristics that attract pollinators to flowers.

Light

When we say light, we mean natural light coming from the sun and not some bulb you might have fixed in front of the flower. Behold the marvellous beauty of nature. Flowers have evolved in numerous ways to attract pollinators.

eli perez TfA15DPv6 o unsplash
Photo by Eli Perez on Unsplash

They try to stand out for their visitors by using pigments like anthocyanins and carotenoids, which makes the flower’s colour stand out, and provides a much-needed contrast to the rest of the green background. This allows the pollinators to notice the flowers better so that they can begin the pollination process.

However, this is a chemical reaction.

Suppose we are to look at the structural manifestations. In that case, the first thing we need to observe is the natural light’s innate interaction (from the sun) with the flower’s microscopic angles.

When natural light reflects on the edges and corners of a petal, it initiates essential flower-pollinator interactions.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/flowers-manipulate-light-to-send-secret-signals-bees-180965316/#:~:text=Nanoscale%20patterns%20on%20the%20petals,of%20a%20surprise%20to%20scientists

Focus

We must dive a little deeper into the structural aspect of flowers to understand why pollinators are attracted to them.

Flowers that have conical cells are more susceptible to pollinators than those flowers that have flat cells. Here is how it works. When natural light hits the conical cells’ surface, it focuses the light on the vacuole (the part of the flower exposed to the pollinators) and successfully scatters the light in all directions.

This creates an illusion that exposes the vacuole directly to the pollinators that pass the flowers, and they instantly get attracted to them.

https://www.gardeners.com/how-to/attracting-beneficial-bees/5024.html

Glossiness of petals

markus spiske 3tZy6MMcJ0Y unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Lips are not the only place where gloss looks attractive. The delicate petals on a flower become instantly appealing when they are glossy.

So, which structural character allows the gloss to shimmer on the petals with? Flowers with flat surfaces allow the natural light’s glow to glisten with more intensity than flowers with conical cells.

However, that does not mean that the flowers with conical cells do not glisten at all. When the natural light falls on the conical cells’ tips, the gloss appears with the right amount.

The gloss might cover up the contrast that the flowers produce, but it positively attracts pollinators. So, gloss, or no gloss, the process of pollination is still being undertaken.

https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0112013

Polarization of light

When we talk about the reflection of light on the conical or flat cells on a flower, it does not mean that the light will equally reflect on all parts of the flower.

The intensity of reflection on the same petal may differ, and bumblebees have the unique capability of detecting the difference between the polarized reflections on a petal.

With this observation, they can easily detect the ripest part of the flower and locate the exposed vacuole through which the bees can drink the nectar and complete the process of pollination.

https://entomologytoday.org/2014/06/09/ability-to-detect-polarized-light-helps-bees-find-food/#:~:text=Bees%20use%20their%20ability%20to,for%20something%20other%20than%20navigation

Grip and Slip

This structural implication is one of the most important physical characteristics that attract pollinators to flowers. It is an indefinite tango between the pollinator, surface of the flower, and gravity.

The conical cells on a flower provide a more textured appearance to the petal. Bees can land safely and grip onto the flower while drinking the nectar. This is particularly helpful in the case of a windy day, and the bees need a ground to grip on while having their lunch to avoid being swept away by the wind.

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/phenomena/2009/05/14/bumpy-petals-help-bees-get-a-grip-on-flowers/

Automatic pollen transfer

krzysztof niewolny rE ge eWe Q unsplash
Photo by Krzysztof Niewolny on Unsplash

Flowers with a stylidium can facilitate proper pollen transfer onto the pollinators that brush up against them on their way to find nectar.

A stylidium contains the stamens and style in the same compartment which faces upwards. These flowers have nerve receptors which can detect when pollinators brush against it.

When this happens, the stylidium stoops down and transfers the pollen on the bee’s back, ensuring successful pollination. After depositing the pollen, the stylidium retains its original position.

Electrostatic alterations

This is another important physical characteristic that allows bees to detect and continue the process of pollination.

The electrostatic part of a flower implies charged pollen, and charged pollen settles more easily on stigma than uncharged pollen. Here is how it works.

Once a pollinator suckles on the nectar of one flower, it carries charged pollen along with it to the next flower that it wants to suckle nectar from. There is an attraction between the charged pollen on the bee’s back and the charged pollen on the flower. As the distance closes between the pollinator and the charged pollen, the electrostatic forces become more intense.

Bumblebees use their mechanosensory hairs on their bodies that are then covered with pollen to detect the flowers where they can get nectar.

With their mechanosensory hairs, they can detect whether other bees have already visited the flowers to pollinate them. So, in that case, they can avoid the flowers that have already been pollinated.

https://nph.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/nph.14312

Conclusion

We hope this article has brought a deeper understanding on how the physical characteristics of a flower determine how the pollinators react upon seeing them.

Understanding these physical characteristics that attract pollinators to flowers will provide you with a more detailed account of the pollination process.

Leave a comment