Nocturnal pollination is something I seldom think about, but this fascinating article by Paul Manning at Poky Ecology describes a host of nighttime pollinators in lowbush blueberry. Really, I had no idea how busy a berry bush in the dark could be.
In a series of experiments, researchers found that as much as one-third of the lowbush blueberry crop may have been pollinated by nocturnal visitors, a population that does not include bees. The research provides another indicator that bees—and particularly honey bees—get credit for a lot of work done by others.
The post also details some of the limitations of honey bees as pollinators, one of my favorite subjects. Since honey bees do not like cold, fog, mist, overcast, wind, or darkness, they are often holed up watching re-runs while everyone else is out working. Still, honey bees remain the darlings of modern agriculture. I often think they have us fooled.
In his post Paul asks, “How can agricultural systems be optimally managed, if we don’t even know the entirety of species acting as pollinators?” My question is similar: If application rates for pesticides are set by using the honey bee as the test insect, how do we know the effects of these chemicals on other insects? In fact, we don’t.
This blog post is well worth a read, and it may very well give you a new perspective on crop pollination . . . and creatures of the night.
Don’t hold it against the honey bee! It’s not their fault they get all the attention. It’s people and their fear of not having full grocery stores that placed all the attention on the honey bee.
As beekeepers, we are in a prime position to educate others about native pollinators. When someone asks me about a recent news item, I try to use it as a segue into talking about the effect of pesticides and loss of forage on all pollinators (yes, even wasps and hornets).
I certainly don’t blame the honey bee, she’s just doing what comes naturally. It’s humans that are short-sighted.
Thanks for your interest Rusty! You’ve posed a really interesting point about toxicity testing as well. Insects which are readily cultured in the lab, can often be the most robust when exposed to pesticides through various pathways. Some research I’m involved in now, has demonstrated similar relationships between dung insects and parasiticide treatment of livestock – where the lab models are the least sensitive to chemical perturbation.
Thanks so much for sharing, really appreciated!
Our flora here in Australia of course evolved without the honey bee. Our Eucalypts (and other trees) have their peak nectar flow at about 1 am – it is meant for bats, sugar gliders, moths, possums. The bees get the rest!
That is so cool!
I live in the Macedon Ranges, VIC and had not heard this before about Eucalypts. Do you have any specific books, papers or websites that talk about this? I will have to give it a Google and ask about the bee club.
Here’s one for you. Last night, my bees were out foraging at midnight! Dining on bluebells in my yard and willows along the river. I know because I was out mowing the lawn, having spent most of the night fishing, without need of a flashlight.
Tim (from Fairbanks, Alaska)
I’d love to see that!
At least we HAVE the public’s attention, Rusty. It’s up to us to see they get solid information.Thanks for all you do in this regard.
If you’d like to delete this next bit and use it in a different post, feel free.
The day after receiving the bland announcement from my Rural Electric Co-op that they intend to come and spray herbicide on our power easement, this came in e-mail from our Club’s production beekeeper:
This (from the utility) is wrong on so many levels, starting with their assumptions about “undesirable” vegetation – locust, honeysuckle, blackberry – and ending with how spraying has the “economic benefit” of allowing them to employ fewer people.
I agree. I’ve been following the glyphosate thing and it’s pretty darn sad. I don’t imagine things will change until it is more or less too late.
The hummingbird moth shown in the video is one of the pollinators I’m trying to save in my tiny neck of the woods (actually middle of town). The first few times I saw one I got confused because they do look like hummingbirds but it was late in the evening. I don’t think we even come close to knowing exactly how many pollinators there are. I’m suspecting that some ants are even getting into the business, based on my observations.
Thanks for sharing. I am surprised the blog author did not mention the terminal anther pores (poricidal anthers) as a reason that the “pollen is not likely to be wind-blown onto a receptive stigma” – the hidden pollen is the reason honey bees rarely purposely collect pollen of blueberries (according to research by Oregon State University) – I would love to hear from anybeekeeper who places hives in large blueberry fields – do you have blueberry pollen filling in the cells? Honey bee presence (obtaining nectar) certainly influences foraging behavior of other bee species, apparently positively in terms of their pollinating behavior. Bees that sonicate the anthers (buzz pollinate) such as bumble bees, can obtain significant amounts of pollen. Bumble bees are efficient (10-20 flowers/minute vs. 5-9 flowers/minute for a honey bee; >50 pollen grains upon a lowbush blueberry stigma per floral visit vs.0-10 for a honey bee) – see the University of Maine, Fact Sheet 629 – ‘Honey Bees and Blueberry Pollination.’ The few papers mentioned in the nocturnal blog are a must read for me now, although I doubt nocturnal pollen transfer comes in large amounts.