A few years ago when my parents were thinking about purchasing a new home, I remember sitting down with a home builder who was showing off some of the state-of-the-art custom features he had recently installed in a few of his latest projects. Among these features, the most interesting (and perhaps most useless, considering we live in Texas) was a concept that he had developed known as “heated tiles”. The basic premise behind this idea was that rather than waking up to cold tiles in the morning, one could instead instantly heat their tiles at the flip of a switch to provide for a much more pleasurable walking experience.
Of course, my parents laughed at the absurdity of the idea considering the fact that we might have to switch from air conditioning to heat a total of 2-3 times a year in warm and humid Houston, Texas. According to a new study at the University of Cambridge and Queen Mary University London, however, it seems that humans aren’t the only ones that demand such luxury for their feet. In fact, the study found that bumblebees are able to first scope out the relative warmth of a flower vis-à-vis the flower’s color and then choose to pollinate on the warmest of these flowers. Hey, who said you can’t be cozy while you eat anyways?
Dr. Heather Whitney, one of the leading researchers on the team, said of the study, “It has been observed that flowers with warming structures attract basking insects, and previous work has shown that insects can obtain a metabolic reward from warmer flowers. However, this is the first time it has been shown that insects can use other cues, such as color, to preferentially seek out warmer flowers.”
These findings have led many in the scientific community to believe that plants actively change their temperatures to attract pollinators to their flowers. This adaptation has profound evolutionary implications, as it has allowed plants to more successfully attract would be pollinators such as bumblebees.
Dr. Beverley Glover, another researcher on the team, wrote “We’re very excited by this result as it suggests that a whole range of structures act as potential pollinator attractants. We can now re-evaluate the roles of lens-shaped petal cells, sun-tracking by flowers, light and heat absorbing pigments and specialized surface structures, all of which may be part of a plant’s bag of tricks for attracting pollinators.”
Like homebuilders then, plants too have a wide array of devices to attract their customers. Whether we talk about heated tiles and human beings, or warm plants and bumblebees, one thing is for sure, evolution works in mysterious ways.
Discussion Question: Given your knowledge of flowering plants, what are some other “tricks” you know of that plants use to attract pollinators?
Article Link: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/08/060803082644.htm
Scientific Article: http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v442/n7102/abs/442525a.html
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