Bees are busy surveying your yard for the tastiest and richest supplies of nectar and pollen. They’re also biting tiny chunks out of leaves as they go along, but are neither ingesting nor bringing the leaf fragments back to the hive. Instead, like so many gardeners with their pruning sheers, the bees are manipulating flowers into blooming earlier than normal, a discovery that has scientists buzzing.
Between the time of their emergence and the month of April when flowers are plentiful, buff-tailed bumblebees in a Swiss research lab were observed over several trials to prune the leaves of preferred plants while not in flower when the bee colony had been deprived of pollen. This was in contrast to the actions, both in the lab and on the building’s rooftop, of another colony that was not pollen-deprived.
Additionally, they had a profound effect on the plants they pruned. Their nibbling enticed flowers out of a tomato plant a whole month early, and black mustard plants two weeks early.
Continuing their rooftop research, the Swiss beekeeper/scientists found that over the course of early summer, wild bees of two other species began visiting and puncturing the leaves on non-flowering patches of plants.
Such a profound development in our understanding of a well researched insect is exciting, and a collection of biologists had a lot to say to National Geographic about the finding.
Some suggest it was an exceptional display of communication between not just different species, but different kingdoms, as the biting of the leaves might be the bee’s way of alerting the flower to its need for food and offering its services as a pollinator in return.