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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Note on Emerging Science

Air Date: Week of

New research shows that honey bees do even more to help flowers we ever knew. Jessie Martin reports on honey bee bodyguards and their implications for sustainable farming.


CURWOOD: Just ahead – the vanishing biodiversity of the apple – but first this note on emerging science from Jessie Martin.


MARTIN: There’s no such thing as a free lunch - even honeybees have to earn their keep as they flit from one meal to the next. Flowers provide them with nectar, and in exchange, the bees spread pollen from one plant to another.

Now, new research shows that honeybees do even more to earn their lunch than previously thought.


According to scientists from the University of Wurzburg, honeybees act as plant bodyguards by scaring away caterpillars that would otherwise munch on the plants’ leaves.

Honeybees aren’t actually dangerous to caterpillars, but wasps are. And the caterpillars – using fine hairs on their bodies to detect flying insects - can’t tell the difference - so they keep away from areas with large honeybee populations. In fact, in lab experiments, the scientists found that when honeybees are around, caterpillars do 60 to 70 percent less damage to plant leaves.

The researchers hope their discovery will soon be applied to sustainable farming practices. If crops and flowers are grown side by side in the same field, then honeybees attracted to the flowers will become crop protectors – allowing farmers to use fewer chemical pesticides.

And that’s an idea that’s worth some buzz.


MARTIN: That’s this week’s note on emerging science. I’m Jessie Martin.



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