Flowers May Tone Down Their Iridescence So Bees Can Find Them Better

First Posted: Feb 27, 2016 05:44 AM EST

It turns out that flowers may tone down their iridescence for bees. Scientists have found that flower's iridescent petals, which may look plain to humans, are actually tailored to a bee's-eye view.

"In 2009 we showed that some flowers can be iridescent and that bees can see that iridescence, but since then we have wondered why floral iridescence is so much less striking than other examples of iridescence in nature," said Beverley Glover, one of the researchers, in a news release.

In this latest study, the researchers created replica flowers that were either perfect iridescent, or imperfectly iridescent or non-iridescent. They then tested to see how long it took for individual bees to find the flowers.

The scientists discovered that the bees were much quicker to locate the iridescent flowers than the non-iridescent flowers. However, it didn't make a difference whether the flowers were perfect or imperfect iridescent; the bees were just as quick to find the replicas modeled on natural petals as they were to find the perfect iridescent petals.

The researchers then tested to see how fast the bees were to find nectar-rich flowers amongst other, similarly-colored flowers. They found that perfect iridescence impeded the bees' ability to distinguish between the flowers. However, imperfect iridescence didn't interfere with this ability.

"We have now discovered that floral iridescence is a trade-off that makes flower detection by bumblebees easier, but won't interfere with their ability to recognize different colors," said Glover.

The findings are published in the journal Current Biology.

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