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The Cost Of Long Tongues

Date:
April 18, 2007
Source:
University of Chicago Press Journals
Summary:
Orchid bees use their extraordinarily long tongues to drink nectar from the deep, tropical flowers only they can access. Exclusive access comes at a cost. It's just plain hard to suck thick, viscous nectars up through a long straw. Orchid bees are sacrificing speed at flowers for exclusive access to them.
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Orchid bee Eulaema
Credit: G. Dimijian

Orchid bees use their extraordinarily long tongues to drink nectar from the deep, tropical flowers only they can access. Researchers have long suspected that this kind of exclusive access came with a mechanical cost. According to common sense and a classic law of fluid mechanics, it's just plain hard to suck thick, viscous nectars up through a long straw.

Now, Brendan Borrell at the University of California, Berkeley has confirmed this prediction for the first time: orchid bees with long tongues suck up their nectars more slowly than bees with shorter tongues.

Borrell spent three years collecting bees in forests all over Costa Rica and Panama and measuring their feeding rates at artificial flowers. He found that the smallest bees sometimes had the longest tongues and the largest bees sometimes had the shortest tongues. But after taking into account all that variation in body size, he says long tongues really do impose a mechanical cost on bees.

Everyone knows just how busy bees can be, but orchid bees are basically sacrificing speed at flowers for exclusive access to them. Borrell thinks this may be because the rewards at these flowers can be tremendous, up to ten times the quanity of nectar provided by typical bee flowers.

Brendan J. Borrell, "Scaling of nectar foraging in orchid bees" American Naturalist, 2007, 169: 569--580. DOI: 10.1086/512689


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The above post is reprinted from materials provided by University of Chicago Press Journals. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


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University of Chicago Press Journals. "The Cost Of Long Tongues." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 April 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070416160729.htm>.
University of Chicago Press Journals. (2007, April 18). The Cost Of Long Tongues. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 4, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070416160729.htm
University of Chicago Press Journals. "The Cost Of Long Tongues." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/04/070416160729.htm (accessed July 4, 2015).

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