[Washington Post] Climate change is making some pretty strange things happen in the world. It’s able to alter the behavior of tiny marine organisms, change the circulation of the oceans and even prompt walruses to huddle en masse on the Alaskan shore. But one of the weirder effects of global warming may be happening inside the mouths of one of our most beloved insects: the bumble bee.
In a new paper
published Thursday in the journal Science, researchers suggest that the
effects of climate change are causing some bumble bees’ tongues — yes,
their tongues — to shrink. In fact, they found that tongues on two
alpine species of bumble bees in the Rocky Mountains have shrunk by
nearly 25 percent in approximately 40 years. And it might sound bizarre,
but this tongue-shrinking could actually have big implications for both
the bees and the flowers they pollinate.
size is important in bees because it controls which flowers they can
visit for nectar. Bees with longer tongues are able to collect nectar
from flowers with longer corollas (that’s the tube shape a flower’s
petals form, protecting the tasty nectar inside).
with more medium-length tongues tend to pollinate many different
species of flowers. But bees with long tongues are often considered
specialists, meaning they only pollinate flowers with deep corolla tubes
— and this can be a beneficial arrangement for both the bee and the
plant. The bee gets to collect nectar from flowers that insects with
shorter tongues can’t access, meaning it has less competition for food.
And the flower is pollinated by bees that are only visiting other
flowers of the same type, meaning there’s a better chance its pollen is
getting transferred to the correct species.
tactic works best when food is abundant. But the researchers on this
study found that rising temperatures are causing flowers (of all sizes)
to decline in the mountains, putting more stress on the bees when it
comes to finding food. Read More