Global warming will undoubtedly effect the life of every living being on our planet, and bumblebees’ tongues are shrinking because of climate change to further accommodate the seemingly inevitable alteration in temperatures.
- Bumblebees’ tongues have shrunk by over 24% since the 1960s
- They have adapted to the decreasing numbers of flowers with deep corolla tubes
- Bees have adapted to pollinating a larger variety of plants, but some have changed their techniques to inefficient pollination
- Over 85% of plants (and some crops) depend on pollinators to reproduce
- Bee pollination services are valued between $10 billion and $15 billion
The heat itself is certainly not a factor in diminishing the size of their tongues, but evolution is. With higher temperatures, certain flowers with deep corolla tubes have seen a drastic drop in numbers, thus making the longer nectar-slurping tool unnecessary. It required more energy that can now be preserved.
Researchers have observed that at least two types of bees in the Rocky Mountains have adapted themselves to preserving their energy, by featuring a shrinking of their tongues. With fewer flowers requiring the longer length, they evolved to become much less picky to which flowers they pollinate.
According to their observations between 2012 and 2014, and comparison to bee species preserved in museums between 1966 and 1980, bees have evolved to have shorter tongues by 24.4%, or an estimated change of 0.61% smaller per year. Co-author of the study, Candace Galen from the University of Missouri, has called it natural selection’s way of offering them a chance to keep up with climate change.
The conclusion has been reached for global warming to be the culprit after eliminating all other possibilities first. They ruled out competition from invaders, their decreasing body size, co-evolution with flowers in that area, and pesticides or pathogens, before landing on the answer that climate change is to be blamed for their alteration.
It’s a beautiful display of evolution and adapting capabilities, but it also can be gravely worrying on how these increases of temperature can affect other living species. The bees studied lived at altitudes of 10,000 feet, where climate change has upped the warmth by 3.6oCelsius in the past 50 years.
It has changed the types of flowers available, and thus forced the bees into changing their techniques, as well as reshaping their tools for better success. According to co-author of the study, Nicole Miller-Struttman though, the silver lining is that bees are finding ways of adapting very quickly.
Even though some of them allegedly “cheat”, by biting a hole into the flower’s side to slurp up the nectar, which does not accomplish the job of helping the plant further spread its seeds.
It’s uncertain yet how this evolution of bees will affect plants worldwide, as it widens the variety of flowers that become pollinated through bees, but some will see no pollination at all for some due to this new “technique”.
For the bees, it implies less energy consumed and more options.
Image source: cognisys-inc.com