Honey Bees Feed on Cape Honeysuckle

November 3, 2009

Nature Notes by Bill Dunson

Honey Bees Feed on Cape Honeysuckle

Honey Bees Feed on Cape Honeysuckle

We just returned to Florida for the Winter and after several weeks of frosts at our VA farm, are enjoying seeing numerous flowers and insect life again. We have spent considerable effort in planting native and exotic plants in our FL yard, with one thing in mind, to provide food and cover for animal life of all kinds. On our small lot along the shores of Lemon Bay we have almost equal numbers of native and exotic plants (about 130 species total). Now some might question the inclusion of exotic species, but I am convinced this is desirable to provide flowers and fruit over as much of the year as possible. To give one example, we now have abundant flowers of the native firebush ( Hamelia ), cape honeysuckle ( Tecomaria/Tecoma capensis ) and Mexican sunflowers, all attracting numerous insects. One of the most common visitors to the cape honeysuckles (see photo) were honeybees. Now some of you may not be aware that honeybees are exotic species, most probably derived from Europe. So when they are feeding on cape honeysuckles, a southern African plant usually pollinated by sunbirds, it is a peculiar but one-sided beneficial association for the bees. They have some trouble reaching the nectar and certainly do not pollinate the flowers; note how long and high the stamens and pistils are. The latter seem to be positioned so that they will push against the head of an African sunbird probing the flower Honeybees crawl down far into the flower tube trying to reach the nectar; they also sometimes bite through the base of the flower searching for an easy route to the nectar. I have seen orchard orioles in our yard and in Costa Rica do a similar thing- stealing nectar by biting through the flower base. It is very interesting to watch insects on flowers and think about whether they are collecting nectar and/or pollen, whether they will be pollinating the flowers, and where the insect and the flower originate geographically.

So often insects and flowers that we see together and think are ecologically compatible, actually originate on different continents and represent a one-sided “odd couple” relationship.

Bill Dunson, Englewood, FL & Galax, VA

Bill Dunson

About Bill Dunson

Bill Dunson, born in rural Georgia, skipped 12th grade and went directly to Yale. Bill subsequent-ly received a PhD in Zoology from the University of Michigan, studying softshell turtles. Bill is Professor Emeritus of Pennsylvania State University thanks to a career spent entirely at that institution, teaching and doing research on the physio-logical ecology and ecotoxiciology of reptiles, amphibians and fish. Always curious about nature, Bill has dedicated his life to learning and sharing his knowledge with others. He has served on many advisory boards here in Southwest Florida to preserve the water that gives life to our region.

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