Bees and flowers fight for sugar

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Massachusetts : It’s a field of study some may find a bit strange, but scientists analysing the behaviour of bees have discovered that they have a distinct liking for sweeter things.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) found that because the insects lap up sweeter more viscous nectar much moreefficiently they will always home in on it.

This could mean that flowers and their pollinators have co-evolved, so that flowers offer up nectar to the type of pollinator they prefer,
according to lead researcher John Bush.

He says: ‘Do the flowers want a certain type of bug or bird to pollinate them? And are they offering up the nectar of their preferred pollinator? It’s an interesting question whether there’s a correlation between the morphology of the plant and the morphology of the insect.’

Bush and his colleagues discovered the bitter truth about bees’ love of sweet substances when they compared their pollinating habits with those of butterflies and moths.

They suck up nectar through long, narrow tubes, or proboscis, whereas bees dip their tongues in and out of flowers.

Blossoming knowledge: Professor John Bush believes that flowers and pollinators may have co-evolved The team discovered that suction feeders were most efficient at taking up nectar containing 33 per cent sugar, while a more viscous and sweeter 52 per cent  concentration was ideal for bees.

Similarly, says Bush, it’s more efficient to suck up sugar water through a straw than to lap it up, and more effective to dip a spoon in and out of honey.

One expert believes MIT’s findings could benefit the world of robotics. David Hu, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, said: ‘This is pretty rare in biology, to give explicit formulas for how quickly fluid moves up.

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