Bumblebees trick plants into flowering earlier

Gardeners across the world who simply can’t wait for their plants to flower have a new ally, according to scientists – bumblebees.

A team of Swiss scientists has discovered that hungry bumblebees have the ability to cajole plants into flowering and making pollen up to a month earlier than usual by punching holes in their leaves.Consuelo De Moraes and her colleagues at ETH Zurich in Switzerland found that worker bumblebees can make plants flower earlier than normal by using their mouthparts to pierce small holes in leaves.

It’s thought that bees may have developed this technique in response to global warming. Rather than coming out of hibernation in early spring to feast on the pollen of newly blooming flowers, bees are emerging early to find plants are yet to bloom and devoid of pollen, meaning the bees go hungry.

Mark Mescher from ETH Zurich, who was part of the study, commented: “Climate change is making spring conditions less predictable, which could disrupt the timing of the relationship between bees and flowers. If this causes bumblebees to exit hibernation too early, they may be able to bring forward the flowering time of plants before they go hungry.”

According to National Geographic, the research is promising for two reasons. For one, it strongly suggests bumblebees manipulate flowers, a particularly useful skill as warming temperatures worldwide are causing the pollinators to emerge before plants have bloomed. The insects depend nearly exclusively on pollen for food for themselves and their larvae in the early spring.

It’s also a potential boost for the human food supply: If agriculturalists can coax their crops to flower early, it could increase food production of some plants.

Whether bumblebees could assist flower farmers in the production of flowers remains to be seen. But, with the likes of Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day taking place early in the year, we reckon this news may well create a buzz amongst producers everywhere.