…the right bug must pollinate the right plant…

From Guest Science Blogger Dr. Donald J. McGraw

Jennifer Jewel and John Whittlesey ©2012

Jennifer Jewel and John Whittlesey ©2012

A new traveling exhibition – Pollinators: Keeping Company with Flowers

The bees are dying!  Does it matter?  A still mysterious and deadly disease, Colony Collapse Disorder, has taken the lives of millions of bees in North America and Europe in the past few years.  But, as it turns out, there are many other types of insects and other animals that pollinate flowers—that behavior which we think of first when we think of honey bees.  So does it matter then that the bees are dying: it most certainly does!

As California naturalists John Whittlesey and Jennifer Jewell, in this critical exhibit demonstrate, there are close relationships to the flowers that are pollinated by various insects and that the shape, color, odor and other features of those flowers are particular to any given pollinator.  This is an example of coevolution, as the exhibit shows.  These “pollination syndromes” are so very specialized that, in almost all cases, honeybees are limited to a select series of plant species and an almond tree, for example (and so essential to the economy of California), cannot be served by just any insect that lands on its flowers.  In fact, honey bees pollinate almost all of our most important food crops, short only the cereal grains (which are wind pollinated).

Jennifer Jewel and John Whittlesey ©2012

Jennifer Jewel and John Whittlesey ©2012

So for both humans, in regard our plant products’ needs, and to nature herself, the right bug must pollinate the right plant.  Moths and butterflies, and even certain beetles, number among the other insects

of great importance, especially in the many species of flowers seen in nature worldwide.  While the exhibit does not cover such animals as bats and some squirrels that are known pollinators, the matter of insects and plants in coevolved pollination syndromes is a wise focus for this exhibit and presents a cornucopia of information, education and a healthy peek into another of the worlds around us.

Dr. McGraw is a biologist and historian of science.  His background in organismal biology keeps bright his interest in plants and fungi, as well as tinier microbes and the occasional animal.  A past professor and educational administrator, he is now writing independently.

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