May 15, 2009

Most flowers give bees Velcro-like support

Tiny pyramid-shaped cells found on 80 percent of flowers provide a Velcro-like surface on which bees hook their feet, British scientists reported Friday.

The conical cells make it easier for bees to climb about, especially in rough weather, said Beverly Glover, a Cambridge University researcher and lead author of the study reported in Current Biology.

For bees to maintain their balance and hold on to a flower is no easy task, especially in windy or wet conditions, Glover said. "It's great to see that evolution has come up with the simple solution of equipping flowers with a Velcro-like surface that bees can get a grip on.

Without the textured-surface, bees would be like climbers trying to scale an ice-laden cliff, The Daily Telegraph reported Friday.

To test the significance of the cells, Glover's team created artificial flowers from epoxy resin, half with surface projections similar to conical cells and half with flat surfaces.

When the artificial petals were horizontal, bees showed no preference for the surface. But as the incline of the petals increased, the bees clearly preferred the conical-celled petals over the flat-surfaced petals, Glover said.