Bees’ Precise Proboscis

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Jiangkun Wei

Bees, in all their surprising ways, are important to humanity, so we share science about them. Our thanks to one of science writing’s most deft explainers, James Gorman, for one more insight. If only for the video, showing the precision of the bee’s ability to drink nectar, this article is worth a look:

A Honeybee’s Tongue Is More Swiss Army Knife Than Ladle

Once again, insects prove to be more complicated than scientists thought they were.

For a century, scientists have known how honeybees drink nectar. They lap it up.

They don’t lap like cats or dogs, videos of whose mesmerizing drinking habits have been one of the great rewards of high speed video. But they do dip their hairy tongues rapidly in and out of syrupy nectar to draw it up into their mouth. For the last century or so, scientists have been convinced that this is the only way they drink nectar.

Scientists have now discovered bees can also suck nectar, which is more efficient when the sugar content is lower and the nectar is less viscous. High-speed video of bees drinking a nectar substitute in a lab shows that not only do honeybees have this unexpected ability, they can go back and forth from one drinking mode to another.

Jianing Wu, an engineering and biophysics specialist, at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, China, and the senior researcher on the experiment, said that while honeybees excel at feeding on highly concentrated nectar, “we find that they can also flexibly switch the feeding strategy from lapping to suction.” He and his colleagues reported the results on Wednesday in the journal Biology Letters….

Read the whole article here.

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