Thursday, June 21, 2012

Theft in the flower border

Columbines are awkward flowers for bees to visit. They can reach the pollen by hanging from the stamens that dangle from below the flower, but the nectar is only accessible to insects with very long tongues. The nectar is secreted from the tip of those tall, tubular nectar spurs above the downward-pointing flower.

But within a few hours of opening all the nectar spurs in the columbines in my garden have holes ripped in them ............... and here....

..... is the culprit. Bumblebees must be able to smell the nectar inside the nectar spurs and quickly learn to short-circuit the legitimate route for extracting it, by simply using their powerful jaws to chew a hole in the nectar spur. Then it's easy to use their short tongue to suck out the nectar.

It always seems to be nectar-thieving bumblebees that chew the holes but honeybees soon learn to use this breach in the flower's security system.

When the columbines have finished flowering the devious bumblebees turn their attention to thieving nectar from broad beans, by chewing holes in the back of the corolla tube and so avoiding the effort and wear-and-tear that's involved in forcing their way between the petals at the front of the flower.

More items on flower pollination here.

More items on bumblebees here


  1. Wow! I've heard of this fascinating (and sneaky) behaviour before but not seen actual photographic evidence - thank you :)

  2. Hi Marianne, I'm going to see if I can catch them in the act on the broad bean flowers too....

  3. I have seen bees doing that to my Runner Bean flowers in the past, cheeky things.

  4. They're busy nicking nectar from my broad beans now!


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