Thursday, May 6, 2010

Bees Nests Using Flower Petals

When we think of bee nests, we often think of a giant hive, buzzing with social activity, worker bees and honey. But scientists recently discovered a rare, solitary type of bee O. avosetta that makes tiny nests by plastering together flower petals.

Each nest is a multicolored, textured little cocoon a papier-mache husk surrounding a single egg, protecting it while it develops into an adult bee. With a flair for the colorful, bees makes a "petal sandwich" out of two layers flower petals inside a small burrow it digs in the ground, cementing them together with clay or mud. Then it caps the chamber with a mud plug, which seals the humidity inside while letting the outside harden. It's the perfect environment for the bee’s egg.

The humidity inside plastered together flower petals is high because the chamber is constructed with two layers of petals with mud in between, which means the food, will not dry out when the larvae feeds. Meanwhile the outside becomes very hard like a nut. This makes it very comfortable and very safe because nothing's going to come down and crush them. Anything that wants to eat them from above is going to have a hard time.

It turns out that the vast majority of the world's 20,000 bee species are solitary creatures, like the O. avosetta, where one female builds just a few nests for her eggs. It's incredibly important to understand bees because they're responsible for the success of so many human crops.