Blowing in the Wind: Ever wonder how a pollinating insect clings to flower petals even in the face of a stiff wind?

Blowing in the Wind: Ever wonder how a pollinating insect clings to flower petals even in the face of a stiff wind? A close look would show their feet firmly grasped by velcro like surface of conical cells (left image). Since the cells are about the same size as the tiny claws on bees’ feet, the claws slide in between the cones for a tight grip. This special doormat is only found in flower petals and nowhere else on the plant.

• University of Cambridge scientist Beverly Glover offered bees Petunias either with conical cells on their petals, or a mutant flat variety. At first, the bees showed only a slight preference for the flowers with conical cells. But when she simulated a wind by placing the flowers on a laboratory shaker (nicely covered in green tissue paper, right image), the bees clearly preferred the conical cells. Even if they had a choice of preferred color (they like the lighter Petunias better), they chose the grippy petals. This is an extraordinarily subtle interaction between a flower and pollinator!

• Why is it that some 20% of flowers (tulips, magnolias, lilies) have smooth, flat petals? Scientists speculate this may be because they are pollinated by hummingbirds or hovering insects that have no use for the sticky landing pad. 

REF: Alcorn, K., Whitney, H., & Glover, B. (2012). Flower movement increases pollinator preference for flowers with better grip Functional Ecology DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2435.2012.02009.x

Blowin’ in the wind – Bob Dylan

#scienceeveryday  

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59 Responses to Blowing in the Wind: Ever wonder how a pollinating insect clings to flower petals even in the face of a stiff wind?

  1. Rajini Rao says:


    Agree, it is the little things that make a difference 🙂

  2. mary Zeman says:


    how interesting- such a seemingly delicate interaction is stronger than it looks!

  3. Rajini Rao says:


    Good morning, Feisal Kamil  and Hello mary Zeman . Can you  believe that the genes controlling development of these conical epidermal cells are known 🙂

  4. Chad Haney says:


    Bob Dylan on Freddie Day? Let me see what I can do when I get home.

  5. Matt Uebel says:


    Just as god intended.

  6. Rajini Rao says:


    LOL, Matt Uebel . I’m so glad I asked you to explain that long ago 😉


    Chad Haney , I await your musical response.

  7. Samia Elsaid says:


    Nice article,very informative 🙂

  8. Jim Carver says:


    “And the answer my friends is blowin’ in the wind…the answer is blowin’ in the wind.” 🙂

  9. Rajini Rao says:


    Jim Carver  , I was going to provide an answer to my rhetorical question but I forgot 🙂

  10. Jim Carver says:


    Rajini Rao Happens to me all the time; they just get blown away. 🙂

  11. Rajini Rao says:


    Some days I hear the wind howling in my attic head 🙂

  12. Jim Carver says:


    Me too, I just ignore it. ) By the by, just thinking about the assemblage of (tulips, magnolias, lilies) is enough to blow my mind for the night. It’s hard rare to see that grouping. In this case it does make sense however.

  13. Rajini Rao says:


    Well, it’s a long stretch …but there are Lily Magnolias and Tulip Magnolias 😀

  14. Jim Carver says:


    When I see a Bryophyte magnolia then I will believe. 😉

  15. Jim Carver says:


    Very clever…haha…good one(s)!

  16. Rajini Rao says:


    My turn to go Hah, Peter Lindelauf 🙂


    Wonderful musical choices Chad Haney and Feisal Kamil !


  17. Always something interesting to learn from you, Rajini!

  18. Rajini Rao says:


    Haha, laughing quickly.

  19. Jim Carver says:


    He who laughs last…took their time.

  20. Rajini Rao says:


    I misread your comment as “comical”, Peter Lindelauf . It made me think of bees in our collective bonnets. 


    I hope we don’t lose our hats with all the hot air wind blowing around 😉


  21. Good piece of info Rajini Rao that’s wonderful nature..

  22. Kawthar A says:


    I enjoyed reading that so much with my one opened eye! 😉 thanks Rajini Rao! 🙂

  23. Tomo Owa says:


    I also enjoyed. Thanks for your post Rajini Rao


  24. Heeh, that’s excellent, thanks Rajini Rao


  25. I certainly do enjoy my time attending Rajini U

  26. Rajini Rao says:


    Terry Hallett , you’re at the top of the class! 🙂

  27. Chad Haney says:


    Rajini Rao here’s a follow up to the crowd-funding medicine post we got drawn into (Max’s post). Am I missing something? http://goo.gl/1iAzr

  28. Rajini Rao says:


    Thanks, Chad Haney ..I commented, for what it’s worth.

  29. Chad Haney says:


    Thanks Rajini Rao I thought it was not only odd but wrong to mention me by name, when it seems that the person agrees with me. I found the Telegraph article and her interpretation to be an example of poor journalism.

  30. Desh Maharaj says:


    Just amazing. Adaptation like this really makes me believe that we lack the understanding of too many important things of nature. this is a complex mutual development accross plant and animal species. 

  31. Rajini Rao says:


    Desh Maharaj , while I agree with you that nature still has important lessons for us, I would not quite say that we lack the understanding 🙂


    Extreme specialization of pollinator and flower showing a mutual co-evolution is actually well documented. This little snippet adds to the appreciation of biological wonders around us!

  32. Desh Maharaj says:


    Yes thanks for that. I am really concerned about the reduction of the Bee population arround the world.  The Bee is such an important element in nature and our food chain.

  33. Rajini Rao says:


    I agree, Desh Maharaj.  Colony collapse disorder is an alarming disease. I wonder if it is a “canary in the coal mine” for environmental pollution.

  34. Jim Carver says:


    Rajini Rao I think they are along with the amphibians.

  35. Rajini Rao says:


    Good analogy, I agree Jim Carver . 

  36. Mad B says:


    Rajini Rao  Always so interesting to read your posts, from that guy you sent so nicely on an asymptotic zero to virus color and flower petals. Thanks!

  37. Rajini Rao says:


    Haha, you remember that guy Madjid Boukri ? I didn’t want to be mean, just deflate him a bit 🙂


    Thanks so much for the appreciation.

  38. Jim Carver says:


    Madjid Boukri She’s also the nicest person on g+. I really don’t know how she does it. I don’t think I’m that patient anymore…I used to be.

  39. Mad B says:


    Hahaha Yes I remember the poor beggar sent on a mathematical trip and Jim Carver agree on nicest.

  40. Desh Maharaj says:


    I think the Colony Collapse disorder has be traced to an instetinal disorder…maybe a bug infestation. But worldwide!!! i did read about this but did not followup.

  41. Rajini Rao says:


    If you find a good consensus or review, let us know Desh Maharaj .

  42. Jim Carver says:


    Desh Maharaj It has multiple causes. Mostly linked to a general pattern of environmental degradation. There is no one single cause.

  43. Desh Maharaj says:


    i am in South Africa and it is 1.35am. Still working.

  44. Rajini Rao says:


    You are a busy bee, Desh Maharaj 🙂

  45. Desh Maharaj says:


    Ja i am designing a server hive (clustered Windows Servers) for business application architecture.  And prep for software development in the near future. So i like working and parting late.


  46. hola Rejimi Rao Ere muy simpatica  atractiva y admitosa.

  47. Rajini Rao says:


    Gracias, Emenegildo Rivera 🙂

  48. mary Zeman says:


    I got to see this in action today Rajini Rao – Bees hanging on to a flower in a stiff wind…. knowing how it work made me appreciate it a little more!  🙂

  49. Rajini Rao says:


    Aww, that’s cool mary Zeman !


  50. Rajini Rao , your posts make me wish I had taken a completely different path in life 🙂

  51. Rajini Rao says:


    I’m glad you enjoy them, Jimmy Shepard !  Hope Colorado is treating you well? I was in the Snowmass area earlier this summer..spectacular mountain drive from Denver.


  52. It is a nice area, but time for me to move on. Will be joining Helen in Frankfurt in late October for 2 years. Looking forward to the change. Sorry to hijack your post- Will keep you updated !

  53. Rajini Rao says:


    Good luck, Jimmy Shepard and keep in touch!

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