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Bee Workshop

Humans and animals are rather selective when it comes to finding a mate. Animals mate strictly for sexual transfer, but plants are mostly stationary and usually rooted in the ground. Because of this they must attract something to help them accomplish the task of transferring male sperm to female plant parts.

The fact that insects search and find plants upon which they feed does not indicate premeditated pollination. Regardless they are codependent and thus they cannot survive without each other.

“Fossil records show 250 million years ago we had plants but no flowers. Ancient spore and cone-bearing plants (like ferns and pines) reproduced with the help of wind and water.”(1) It took a long time for a new order of plants called angiosperms to appear. Leaves forming bowl shapes became the first flowers. Flowering angiosperms branched into thousands of different colors and shapes constantly adopting new pollination that came to rely on these flowering plants for food never suspecting they were helping in the plants continuum.

Even though flowering plants are designed to attract pollinators, usually insects but not always, plants and pollinators have different goals. Plants want to maximize the spread of pollen, and minimize their effort in pollen and nectar production. Pollinators, on the other hand, want to maximize their find of high quality food (pollen and sugary nectar), and minimize their cost of foraging. These seemingly opposed goals can result in highly specialized symbiotic relationships between plant and pollinator.(2)

Plants and pollinators have co-evolved physical characteristics that make them more likely to interact successfully, which led to the great diversity of flowers in nature. The plants benefit from attracting a particular type of pollinator to its flower, ensuring that its pollen will be carried to another flower of the same species and hopefully resulting in successful reproduction.

The act of pollination moves pollen from the male anthers of a flower to the female stigma of a flower to accomplish fertilization of the female gamete in the ovule of the flower by the male gamete from the pollen grain. Pollinators break down into four main categories:

•   Entomophily: pollination by insects. Insects comprise the most diverse group of animals on the earth, with over 800,000 species described – more than all other animal groups combined. There are approximately 5,000 dragonfly species, 2,000 praying mantis, 20,000 grasshopper, 170,000 butterfly and moth, 120,000 fly, 82,000 true bug, 350,000 beetle, and 110,000 bee and ant species. The study of insects is called entomology.

•   Zoophily: pollination by animals such as birds or bats. Zoophily is a form of pollination whereby pollen is transferred by vertebrates, particularly by hummingbirds and other birds, and bats, but also by monkeys, marsupials, lemurs, bears, rabbits, deer, rodents, lizard s and other animals. Zoomophilous species, like entomophilous species, frequently evolve mechanisms to make themselves more appealing to the particular type of pollinator…., e.g. brightly colored or scented flowers, nectar, and appealing shapes and patterns. These plant animal relationships are often mutually beneficial because of the food source provided in exchange for pollination. Species which are primarily spread by contact tend to develop burrs, hooks, or other structures for attaching themselves to an animal’s fur.(3)

•    Hydrophily: pollination by water is fairly uncommon. Hydrophilous species fall into two categories: those that distribute their pollen to the surface of water, and those that distribute it beneath the surface. Surface pollination is rare, and appears to be a transitional phase between wind pollination and true hydrophily, where pollen is completely submerged.

•    Anemophily: pollination by wind very common in grasses, conifers and sweet chestnut. The Anemophilous species do not develop scented flowers, nor do they produce nectar.
•    Bees are often considered as the most efficient pollinator.
•    In the US there are over 4000 species of native bees.
•    The European honey bee (Apis mellifera) is an almost global species – being introduced into the Americas by humans during the early colonization of the continents. Honey bees are best known for their role in the production of honey.
•    Bee pollination is estimated at $60 million per year in Pennsylvania, and at $14 billion per year in the US as a whole.
•    Largest set of pollinating animals.
•    Early beetles appear to have been among the primary visitors of primitive flowering plants, and due to their pollination being an improvement over wind pollination, beetles likely played an important role in the evolution of flowering plants.
•    Beetles pollinate about 88% of the 240,000 flowering plants on earth.
•    Compared to bees, butterflies are often less efficient at transferring pollen between plants because frequently pollen does not stick to their bodies and they lack specialized structures for collecting pollen.

•    About 2,000 species of birds worldwide are nectar feeders.
•    The hummingbird family provides vital pollination services to thousands of plant species.
•    Of the 300 different hummingbird species, 16 breeding species occur in the United States.
•    Only the rubythroated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) breeds in the eastern United States.
•    Though most bats are insectivorous, many bats are important pollinators.
•    Species in approximately 1/3 of bat genera visit flowers and eat nectar and pollen.

The Role of Butterflies (4)&(5)

Butterfly fossils are rare. The earliest butterfly fossils are from the early Cretaceous period, about 130 million years ago. Their development is closely linked to the evolution of flowering plants (angiosperms) since both adult butterflies and caterpillars feed on flowering plants, and the adults are important pollinators of many flowering plants. Flowering plants also evolved during the Cretaceous period.

The role of butterflies is important in our natural world. Their sheer numbers supply a vast food source for predators, and they are significant plant pollinators. With their acute sensitivity to pesticides and toxins, their presence, diversity and relative abundance indicate the overall well-being of our ecosystems. Their message is simple: A healthy community usually has a large number and wide array of butterfly species; a contaminated or altered community doesn’t. The aesthetic appeal of these winged creatures is even more significant once we realize that butterflies neither sting, bite, nor transmit disease.

Butterflies and moth belong to the order Lepidoptera. Lepidos is Greek for “scales” and ptera means “wing”. These scaled wings are different from the wings of any other insects. Lepidoptera is a very large group; there are more types of butterflies and moths than there are of any other type of insects except beetles. It is estimated that there are about 150,000 different species of butterflies and moths (there may be many more). There are about 28,000 butterfly species worldwide, the rest are moths.

Butterflies are found all over the world and in all types of environments: hot and cold, dry and moist, at sea level and high in the mountains. Most butterfly species, however, are found in tropical areas, especially tropical rainforests. Many butterflies migrate in order to avoid adverse environmental conditions (like cold weather). Butterfly migration is not well understood. Most migrate relatively short distances (like the Painted Lady, the Red Admiral, and the Common Buckeye), but a few (like some Monarchs) migrate thousands of miles.

Butterflies can only fly if their body temperature is above 86 degrees. Butterflies sun themselves to warm up in cool weather. As butterflies age, the color of the wings fades and the wings become ragged. The speed varies among butterfly species (the poisonous varieties are slower than non-poisonous varieties). The fastest butterflies (some skippers) can fly at about 30 mile per hour or faster. Slow flying butterflies fly about 5 mph.

Like all insects, butterflies have six jointed legs, 3 body parts, a pair of antennae, compound eyes, and an exoskeleton. The three body parts are the head, thorax (the chest), and abdomen (the tail end). Butterflies are very good fliers. They have two pairs of large wings covered with colorful, iridescent scales in overlapping rows. Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) are the only insects that have scaly wings. The wings are attached to the butterfly’s thorax (mid-section). Veins support the delicate wings and nourish them with blood.

Butterfly color emanates from thousands of tiny, shingle-like scales in rows delicately attached by twin stalks to a parchment-like wing membrane. If you gently rub your finger across a butterfly wing, these stalks break and the scales brush off like dust. Two types of color arise from the wing-pigmented and structural or iridescent hues. Pigmented colors such as red, orange, yellow and brown come from the actual color pigment of each scale. In contrast, the iridescent, metallic colors such as blue, green, violet, silver and gold are created by minute structures on the scale surface that bend light and reflect it.

The four stages in butterfly metamorphosis are egg, larva (caterpillar), pupa (chrysalis) and adult. Metamorphosis begins when the fertilized egg hatches into a small caterpillar. The caterpillar’s voracious appetite causes it to continually search for food while growing larger by the hour. After finally getting its fill, the caterpillar slowly molts into an inactive, mummy-like stage called the chrysalis. Within this waxy pupal case, the mystical transformation into adulthood occurs. As the chrysalis case splits, the wrinkled-winged adult butterfly emerges. After stretching and drying, the butterfly takes to the air in search of a mate so the cycle can be repeated. The miracle is complete; the ugly caterpillar has become a beautiful airborne ambassador of nature.

1.    Angela Overy, “Sex in Your Garden”

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