That’s the bees knees

The Times (South Africa) - - News - Dave Cham­bers

● Sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered why a South African bee has grown such ex­traor­di­nar­ily long legs.

Re­search at Stel­len­bosch Univer­sity has found that oil-col­lect­ing Re­di­viva bees‚ first de­scribed in 1984‚ evolved legs of up to 23mm long to har­vest oil from snap­drag­ons.

“This is one of the few ex­am­ples where a pol­li­na­tor had to adapt to the flow­ers that it pol­li­nates‚ rather than the other way round‚” said evo­lu­tion­ary ecol­o­gist An­ton Pauw.

Pauw said flow­ers of­ten adapted to their pol­li­na­tors in spec­tac­u­lar ways to re­pro­duce.

In this case‚ how­ever‚ Re­di­viva bees de­vel­oped front legs of vary­ing lengths — up to

23.4mm in some cases — to reach oil pro­duced at the back of the snap­dragon’s twin spurs.

The bees’ front legs are coated in dense, vel­vety hairs that soak up the oil‚ which is then mixed with pollen to form a su­per-nu­tri­tious bread for lar­vae in un­der­ground hives.

“We were able to show that very closely re­lated bee species of­ten dif­fer dra­mat­i­cally in leg length and that this di­ver­gence could be ex­plained by dif­fer­ences in the spur length of the flow­ers they visit‚” the bee ex­pert said. —

Pic­ture: An­ton Pauw

SEX PISTILS: South Africa’s Re­di­viva longi­manus bees have evolved dis­pro­por­tion­ately long legs, with dense, vel­vety hairs on them, so they can col­lect oil from the equally long spurs of snap­dragon flow­ers

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