N is for Nectar-Robbery

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As a part of the A-Z Photographic Glossary of Biological Terms challenge, today it is N for Nectar-robbery as illustrated by this “Culo-de-vaca” stingless bee (Trigona fulviventris; Meloponini); Sittee River Wildlife Reserve, Stann Creek District, Belize.

Pollination systems are mostly mutualistic, meaning that the plant benefits from a pollinator’s transport of male gametes to the female organs on another flower and in return, the pollinator benefits from a reward such as pollen or nectar. However in some cases, as in this “culo-de-vaca” bee, which is a short-tongued bee, and this tubular-flowered Firebush (Hamelia patens; Rubiaceae), the bee cannot extend its tongue far enough to get at the nectar by entering the flower from its open end, so it bypasses the anthers of the bloom by biting a hole at the base of the flower to get easier access- the term used is “nectar-robbery” because the flower is not rewarded by being pollinated!

It is interesting to note that this particular species of bee has been documented to demonstrate spatio-temporal (also called time-place) learning behavior, the ability of some individuals in the colony to associate the time and place of an event such as when nectar is flowing, anticipating successful nectar gathering by arriving up to 30 mins ahead of a feeding event and staying as much as 30 mins after it was “scheduled” to be available.

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short-tongued Meliponine bees committing nectar-robbery on a Morning Glory
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