Nectar robbers

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A year ago, after the bushfires, when everything that wasn’t burnt was scorched or looking like it had heat stroke, I planted a big pot of salvia for a quick burst of flowers for whatever insects had survived. It became a gathering point for native bees and honey bees alike, and every time I looked at it I felt I’d done something good. This summer it reflowered, and it continues to flower: an enormous coronet of ‘Hot Lips’ salvia with its circus flowers of pink and white; smaller, more compact, deep purple salvia beneath. Earlier this morning there was a dragonfly on its stalks, and just now two blue-banded bees (Amegilla cingulata), with their familiar buzz, careering around, dipping in and out. One is carrying a big yellow bundle of pollen on one of its back legs.

Not for the first time I wondered about nectar and pollen. Does the flower just keep exuding nectar, or does it run out? Why do the bees choose one flower over another? Why do they sometimes pop into one then pop out again immediately? And why are the blue-banded bees sometimes in the flower and sometimes under the flower, below the base of the petals?

Many hours later I have some answers. But first, I had to get some definitions.

Nectar.

Nectar is a sweet, nutritious secretion produced by a flower’s nectaries. It is mainly sugars (fructose, glucose and sucrose), but may contain traces of other elements, such as amino acids, salts and essential oils. Its composition varies enormously, depending on the plant species, soil and air conditions. Fascinatingly, the connection between a plant and its pollinator may be built in to the nectar:

All these substances often impart a particular taste and odour that may be essential for maintaining certain pollinator groups.[1]

Nectar is secreted from the nectaries in a distinctive pattern for each species, maybe in response to or just in tune with the different pollinators’ needs. The sugar levels may change as nectar is taken, or not. One study of nectar production in salvia showed varying levels of nectar production through the day, depending on the type of salvia, with average production ranging from lows of less than 0.5 µl to highs of 1.75 µl per flower between 9 am and 2 pm. The researchers found that most of the flowers stopped producing nectar after 2 pm. Removal of nectar, either by the researchers or by bees, did not stop the flower from producing nectar.

Nectaries.

The position of the nectaries is not fixed within the flower.

To ensure that ideally only legitimate pollinators can access the reward (and in that way successfully transfer pollen), flowers are often “built” around the nectary or the nectar.[3]

However, nectaries are usually found at the base of the stamens, so the pollinator comes into contact with the pollen as it goes into the flower.

Pollen, and other parts of the flower.

At this point I had to go back to flower terminology. Pollen grains contain the male gametes of plants. They are found on the anther, which is at the top of the stamen. When pollen is transferred to the stigma, it (hopefully) germinates. A pollen tube grows from the stigma down the style to fuse with the female nucleus in the ovary. The style and stamen are those fine upright parts of a flower, typically visible in the middle of the petals. So the importance of attracting pollinators lies in the fact that pollen may be being produced in one flower at a time when its stigmas are not receptive. The pollen carried by the pollinator to another plant’s flowers may find a more receptive stigma, leading to germination.

Putting it all together.

So nectar attracts bees (and other pollinators) in the hope that they will pick up some pollen and carry it around, leading to the survival of the species. Nectar is often exuded in small amounts to attract many different pollinators throughout the day, improving the chances of spreading the pollen around.

And those blue-banded bees sucking at the base of the flower?

Some insects, known generally as nectar robbers, bypass the sexual organs of the flowers to obtain nectar, often by penetrating the outside of the flower rather than entering it. In this way, nectar robbers ‘steal’ the nectar reward without facilitating pollination.[4]

Ooh. Nectar robbers!

[1] https://academic.oup.com/aob/article/94/2/269/174092

[2] http://sixseven.org/NectarMonitoring.pdf

[3] https://www.botany.one/2018/07/on-nectaries-and-floral-architecture/

[4] https://www.britannica.com/science/nectar

People = male Part 1

Featured

In 2019 my story, ‘Still Life’, was published by Margaret River Press in their anthology, We’ll stand in that place and other stories, and in 2020 MRP invited me to be one of their guest bloggers. For a long time I’ve wanted to do some research on how using the male pronoun as a general pronoun affects our perception. This was my chance to explore. I had four posts to do it in.

This is the first post.

Fifty words for one day

Featured

9 October 2020

Miss you already, my fifty word habit. One last kiss as I say goodbye to you, slumped on the couch in your tight party clothes before being hustled out the door by the designated driver, poured onto the back seat and driven deep into the night on dark, rain-soaked streets.

Fifty words for two days

Featured

8 October 2020

The seeds we germinated, the trees we planted are no longer ours. They flourish – I hope – in that garden we built from a paddock of kikuyu. The garden beds are tended by other people now – I hear – and they live in the house that we built. It shelters others now.

Fifty words for four days

Featured

6 October 2020

My father’s favourite phrase – family motto even – was ‘Sufficient is enough’. While there was no arguing with its assertion of synonymity, I always found its lack of breadth of vision disturbing. Today I would rather quote another phrase that my father liked using: ‘You can’t be unlucky all the time’.

Fifty words for ten days

Featured

30 September 2020

Drinking coffee with a friend of twenty years, talking of work and idiots we have known, I slowly reassembled who I am. It’s not hard to lose all sense of being, be thrown into chaos as tumbled as a gully where magpies dive and rustle, where the sky just disappears.

Fifty words for twelve days

Featured

28 September 2020

Of course it was just for the four-year-old that I stopped by the side of the road to delight in tiny black-faced lambs, leaping behind their mothers in the paddock. And only for her did I accept the farmer’s invitation to feed the lamas that nibbled soft-lipped at our hands.

Fifty words for fourteen days

Featured

26 September 2020

Can I mention that in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the answer to the meaning of the universe is 42, and that it’s 42 years since the radio program first aired. And that Ford Prefect and Arthur encounter survivors from Golgafrincham, a planet wiped out by a virulent disease.

Fifty words for sixteen days

Featured

24 September 2020

We first see the train as we turn at the end of the street. ‘We’re following it!’ my granddaughter laughs, and so we are. We see it again across the paddocks, reduced in size, a matchbox train. ‘It’s smaller because it’s further away!’ my granddaughter exclaims. Both rational and magic.

Fifty words for seventeen days

Featured

23 September 2020

Down in the street two young teenagers are walking, shoelaces undone, school backpacks drooping. His arm is draped over her shoulder. They both smile dreamy smiles of contentment. They kick across the road in the benevolent afternoon. Mild sun warms their backs, and a breeze is animation in the trees.

Fifty words for twenty-three days

Featured

17 September 2020

Bundanoon is beautiful with opulent magnolia and pink-tinged snowy-white blossom. Waving yellow wattle and delicate droops of sweet pea. I push the pram into the butcher’s shop as a passing woman wearing an ankle length wrap of finely-woven wool articulates to her companion, ‘How did you discover this little place?’.

Fifty words for twenty-six days

Featured

14 September 2020

Day twenty-five of my fifty days. What to write about to celebrate this auspicious moment? Being a great-aunt, the mystery of dust, the sudden shaft of western sun falling on the house across the street? Or maybe it’s time to consider the fast-approaching milestone of one million deaths due to

Fifty words for thirty-three days

Featured

7 September 2020

Last night’s news reported the survival of the glow worms in a damp tunnel near Newnes, spared, unlike the devastating three billion animals killed or displaced in last summer’s fires. ‘They’re like nature’s Milky Way,’ one person enthused. In these circumstances, you’ve got to get your laughs where you can.

Fifty words for thirty-six days

Featured

4 September 2020

These voices calling through light rain and grey sky remind me of Rome, that apartment behind Campo dei Fiori, the windowseat, the window onto trailing vines. They remind me of that agriturismo outside Agrigento, those children calling from the hillside, across the valley, running their goats down along the fences.

Fifty words for thirty-eight days

Featured

2 September 2020

The telegraph wires are mysterious at night, loops and stray pieces of wire forming shapes of enigmatic language. In the morning they shine like innocent children, laughing at my fancies, displaying their true twists and accretions. But a spider’s web, seen as a gauze in the streetlight’s slant, has vanished.

Fifty words for thirty-nine days

Featured

1 September 2020

The aquarobics music pumps and the teacher bounces, booming to her bobbing class. Lane markers, dark blue in the aqua pool, pucker on their edges, serrated like a breadknife, rippling like ric-rac. As my grandson learns overarm, the water surface melts. I sit in a Hockney with a Motown soundtrack.

Fifty words for forty days

Featured

31 August 2020

Combining Dharawal and western concepts of time, it’s the last day of Tugarah Gunya’marri here. Tomorrow Murrai’yunggory starts, when Ngoonungi, flying foxes, gather. I love this: they are ‘sky-dancing’. Miwa Gawaian, waratah, will start to bloom, its magnificent red flower demanding your attention whether you know its significance or not.

Nectar robbers

Featured

Tags

A year ago, after the bushfires, when everything that wasn’t burnt was scorched or looking like it had heat stroke, I planted a big pot of salvia for a quick burst of flowers for whatever insects had survived. It became a gathering point for native bees and honey bees alike, and every time I looked at it I felt I’d done something good. This summer it reflowered, and it continues to flower: an enormous coronet of ‘Hot Lips’ salvia with its circus flowers of pink and white; smaller, more compact, deep purple salvia beneath. Earlier this morning there was a dragonfly on its stalks, and just now two blue-banded bees (Amegilla cingulata), with their familiar buzz, careering around, dipping in and out. One is carrying a big yellow bundle of pollen on one of its back legs.

Not for the first time I wondered about nectar and pollen. Does the flower just keep exuding nectar, or does it run out? Why do the bees choose one flower over another? Why do they sometimes pop into one then pop out again immediately? And why are the blue-banded bees sometimes in the flower and sometimes under the flower, below the base of the petals?

Many hours later I have some answers. But first, I had to get some definitions.

Nectar.

Nectar is a sweet, nutritious secretion produced by a flower’s nectaries. It is mainly sugars (fructose, glucose and sucrose), but may contain traces of other elements, such as amino acids, salts and essential oils. Its composition varies enormously, depending on the plant species, soil and air conditions. Fascinatingly, the connection between a plant and its pollinator may be built in to the nectar:

All these substances often impart a particular taste and odour that may be essential for maintaining certain pollinator groups.[1]

Nectar is secreted from the nectaries in a distinctive pattern for each species, maybe in response to or just in tune with the different pollinators’ needs. The sugar levels may change as nectar is taken, or not. One study of nectar production in salvia showed varying levels of nectar production through the day, depending on the type of salvia, with average production ranging from lows of less than 0.5 µl to highs of 1.75 µl per flower between 9 am and 2 pm. The researchers found that most of the flowers stopped producing nectar after 2 pm. Removal of nectar, either by the researchers or by bees, did not stop the flower from producing nectar.

Nectaries.

The position of the nectaries is not fixed within the flower.

To ensure that ideally only legitimate pollinators can access the reward (and in that way successfully transfer pollen), flowers are often “built” around the nectary or the nectar.[3]

However, nectaries are usually found at the base of the stamens, so the pollinator comes into contact with the pollen as it goes into the flower.

Pollen, and other parts of the flower.

At this point I had to go back to flower terminology. Pollen grains contain the male gametes of plants. They are found on the anther, which is at the top of the stamen. When pollen is transferred to the stigma, it (hopefully) germinates. A pollen tube grows from the stigma down the style to fuse with the female nucleus in the ovary. The style and stamen are those fine upright parts of a flower, typically visible in the middle of the petals. So the importance of attracting pollinators lies in the fact that pollen may be being produced in one flower at a time when its stigmas are not receptive. The pollen carried by the pollinator to another plant’s flowers may find a more receptive stigma, leading to germination.

Putting it all together.

So nectar attracts bees (and other pollinators) in the hope that they will pick up some pollen and carry it around, leading to the survival of the species. Nectar is often exuded in small amounts to attract many different pollinators throughout the day, improving the chances of spreading the pollen around.

And those blue-banded bees sucking at the base of the flower?

Some insects, known generally as nectar robbers, bypass the sexual organs of the flowers to obtain nectar, often by penetrating the outside of the flower rather than entering it. In this way, nectar robbers ‘steal’ the nectar reward without facilitating pollination.[4]

Ooh. Nectar robbers!

[1] https://academic.oup.com/aob/article/94/2/269/174092

[2] http://sixseven.org/NectarMonitoring.pdf

[3] https://www.botany.one/2018/07/on-nectaries-and-floral-architecture/

[4] https://www.britannica.com/science/nectar

People = male Part 1

Featured

In 2019 my story, ‘Still Life’, was published by Margaret River Press in their anthology, We’ll stand in that place and other stories, and in 2020 MRP invited me to be one of their guest bloggers. For a long time I’ve wanted to do some research on how using the male pronoun as a general pronoun affects our perception. This was my chance to explore. I had four posts to do it in.

This is the first post.

Fifty words for one day

Featured

9 October 2020

Miss you already, my fifty word habit. One last kiss as I say goodbye to you, slumped on the couch in your tight party clothes before being hustled out the door by the designated driver, poured onto the back seat and driven deep into the night on dark, rain-soaked streets.

Fifty words for two days

Featured

8 October 2020

The seeds we germinated, the trees we planted are no longer ours. They flourish – I hope – in that garden we built from a paddock of kikuyu. The garden beds are tended by other people now – I hear – and they live in the house that we built. It shelters others now.

Fifty words for four days

Featured

6 October 2020

My father’s favourite phrase – family motto even – was ‘Sufficient is enough’. While there was no arguing with its assertion of synonymity, I always found its lack of breadth of vision disturbing. Today I would rather quote another phrase that my father liked using: ‘You can’t be unlucky all the time’.

Fifty words for ten days

Featured

30 September 2020

Drinking coffee with a friend of twenty years, talking of work and idiots we have known, I slowly reassembled who I am. It’s not hard to lose all sense of being, be thrown into chaos as tumbled as a gully where magpies dive and rustle, where the sky just disappears.

Fifty words for twelve days

Featured

28 September 2020

Of course it was just for the four-year-old that I stopped by the side of the road to delight in tiny black-faced lambs, leaping behind their mothers in the paddock. And only for her did I accept the farmer’s invitation to feed the lamas that nibbled soft-lipped at our hands.

Fifty words for fourteen days

Featured

26 September 2020

Can I mention that in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy the answer to the meaning of the universe is 42, and that it’s 42 years since the radio program first aired. And that Ford Prefect and Arthur encounter survivors from Golgafrincham, a planet wiped out by a virulent disease.

Fifty words for sixteen days

Featured

24 September 2020

We first see the train as we turn at the end of the street. ‘We’re following it!’ my granddaughter laughs, and so we are. We see it again across the paddocks, reduced in size, a matchbox train. ‘It’s smaller because it’s further away!’ my granddaughter exclaims. Both rational and magic.

Fifty words for seventeen days

Featured

23 September 2020

Down in the street two young teenagers are walking, shoelaces undone, school backpacks drooping. His arm is draped over her shoulder. They both smile dreamy smiles of contentment. They kick across the road in the benevolent afternoon. Mild sun warms their backs, and a breeze is animation in the trees.

Fifty words for twenty-three days

Featured

17 September 2020

Bundanoon is beautiful with opulent magnolia and pink-tinged snowy-white blossom. Waving yellow wattle and delicate droops of sweet pea. I push the pram into the butcher’s shop as a passing woman wearing an ankle length wrap of finely-woven wool articulates to her companion, ‘How did you discover this little place?’.

Fifty words for twenty-six days

Featured

14 September 2020

Day twenty-five of my fifty days. What to write about to celebrate this auspicious moment? Being a great-aunt, the mystery of dust, the sudden shaft of western sun falling on the house across the street? Or maybe it’s time to consider the fast-approaching milestone of one million deaths due to

Fifty words for thirty-three days

Featured

7 September 2020

Last night’s news reported the survival of the glow worms in a damp tunnel near Newnes, spared, unlike the devastating three billion animals killed or displaced in last summer’s fires. ‘They’re like nature’s Milky Way,’ one person enthused. In these circumstances, you’ve got to get your laughs where you can.

Fifty words for thirty-six days

Featured

4 September 2020

These voices calling through light rain and grey sky remind me of Rome, that apartment behind Campo dei Fiori, the windowseat, the window onto trailing vines. They remind me of that agriturismo outside Agrigento, those children calling from the hillside, across the valley, running their goats down along the fences.

Fifty words for thirty-eight days

Featured

2 September 2020

The telegraph wires are mysterious at night, loops and stray pieces of wire forming shapes of enigmatic language. In the morning they shine like innocent children, laughing at my fancies, displaying their true twists and accretions. But a spider’s web, seen as a gauze in the streetlight’s slant, has vanished.

Fifty words for thirty-nine days

Featured

1 September 2020

The aquarobics music pumps and the teacher bounces, booming to her bobbing class. Lane markers, dark blue in the aqua pool, pucker on their edges, serrated like a breadknife, rippling like ric-rac. As my grandson learns overarm, the water surface melts. I sit in a Hockney with a Motown soundtrack.

Fifty words for forty days

Featured

31 August 2020

Combining Dharawal and western concepts of time, it’s the last day of Tugarah Gunya’marri here. Tomorrow Murrai’yunggory starts, when Ngoonungi, flying foxes, gather. I love this: they are ‘sky-dancing’. Miwa Gawaian, waratah, will start to bloom, its magnificent red flower demanding your attention whether you know its significance or not.