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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

Animal Note

Air Date: Week of

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Birds and bees and gerbils? Living on Earth's Maggie Villiger reports that the rodents are the latest animals discovered that pollinate plants.


CURWOOD: Coming up: voters in San Francisco are being asked to approve the nation's biggest public solar power project. First, this page from the Animal Notebook, with Maggie Villiger.

VILLIGER: When you think of an animal bustling from flower to flower, sipping nectar and pollinating plants, it's probably birds or bees that come to mind. But some marsupials, primates and rodents do the job just as well. For example, scientists have now discovered that gerbils make excellent pollinators. Researchers set up a surveillance system to watch who came to feed on a species of lily that lives in South Africa's succulent Karoo region. Like kids caught with cookie crumbs on their chins, the gerbils snared in nearby traps had pollen all over their snouts. As these nocturnal rodents travel from flower to flower slurping up the jelly like nectar, they inadvertently pick up pollen, and carry it to the next lily. Plants that the gerbils couldn't access produce drastically fewer seeds, proving, the scientists say, that pollination relies on the furry visitors. The researchers figure that rodent pollinated plants have evolved to have dull colored sturdy flowers that grow close to the ground. To gerbils, it's like hanging out a sign at the all night diner, "All you can eat buffet." That's this week's Animal Note, I'm Maggie Villiger.

CURWOOD: And you're listening to Living on Earth.



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