Bumblebee Bites Can Make Plants Bloom Earlier

Category: Science/Environment


Unlocking Word Meanings

Read the following words/expressions found in today’s article.

  1. nibble / ˈnɪb əl / (v) – to take small bites

    The hamster nibbled on the carrot.

  2. replicate / ˈrɛp lɪˌkeɪt / (v) – to do or make something in the exact same way

    The students replicated their teacher’s dance moves.

  3. incision / ɪnˈsɪʒ ən / (n) – a cut on something

    The doctor made sure that the patient was asleep before he made an incision.

  4. secretion / sɪˈkri ʃən / (n) – a substance that is produced and released by a plant or an animal

    Some plant secretions can be poisonous if you touch them.

  5. promising / ˈprɒm ə sɪŋ / (adj) – likely to have a good result

    The study on the medicinal use of coconut is very promising.


Read the text below.

A study has found that bumblebees bite plants to make them bloom earlier.

Scientists from Switzerland found that when there is not enough pollen to feed on, bumblebees nibble on the leaves of plants that have not yet bloomed. Pollen is one of the bees’ primary sources of nutrition. However, due to global warming, flowers have been blooming irregularly and pollen has been scarce.

Research suggests that the marks that bees make on leaves seem to trick plants into blossoming up to 30 days earlier than usual.

The researchers observed that the bees’ bites on the plants are usually semi-circular. They attempted to replicate the marks in the lab using razor blades, but their incisions on the leaves failed to get the same result and were only able to make the plants bloom five days earlier.

This result led the team to speculate that there may be other factors at play that cause the plants to bloom, such as secretions or some other form of unknown communication from the bees. The scientists said that they plan to investigate these other factors further.

The scientists said it is also possible that the advanced blooming is being initiated by the plants themselves as some plants need these pollinators to reproduce. The scientists think that the plants cause themselves to bloom once they become aware of the presence of the bees.

A report by National Geographic says that the discovery is promising because it may indicate that bees are able to manipulate flowers to help in the insects’ survival. Another significance of the study is connected to human food. Being able to make plants bloom earlier may also help boost food production and supply worldwide.

Viewpoint Discussion

Enjoy a discussion with your tutor.

Discussion A

• Do you think scientists should keep trying to find out how to make plants bloom earlier? Why or why not?
• Do you think further studies on bumblebees are important? Why or why not? Discuss.

Discussion B

• What irregularities or imbalances in nature have you observed recently (e.g. flowers blooming late, less fruit on trees, fewer birds than usual)? Discuss.
• Do you think humans should do something about these irregularities or imbalances? Why or why not?