Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 81.djvu/203

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197
BEES

BEES WHICH VISIT ONLY ONE SPECIES OF FLOWER
By JOHN H. LOVELL
WALDOBORO, MAINE

ONE warm afternoon on the twentieth of July I was collecting insects from a boat on the Medomac River. A thunder-shower was coming up in the northwest. The air was very still and in that peculiar condition which precedes an electric storm. At such times insects are very sluggish and seek shelter against the approaching tempest. The silence was broken only by the rumbling peals of the distant thunder, following the bright flashes of lightning, which illumined the dark thunder-heads of the advancing clouds. It became necessary for me to hasten homeward. To my surprise I noticed on almost every one of the violet-blue spikes of the pickerel-weed (Pontederia cordata), a species of water hyacinth, which in countless numbers fringed the winding stream on both sides, one to several small bees. They had crept within the bilabiate flowers as far as possible, and were evidently intending to await there the passing of the storm. They were so inactive that no net was required, and I could easily knock them off into the cyanide jar. I collected about forty specimens and could have easily collected hundreds. This phenomenon has never been repeated to my knowledge.

On examination the bee proved to be Halictoides novae-angliæ, or the pickerel-weed bee. Every season when the pickerel-weed is in bloom I find both sexes of this bee on its flowers, and though I have carefully observed the visitors to many other plants in this locality I have never met with it elsewhere. Apparently in this region it never visits any other flower—it is a monotropic bee. When a female bee in gathering pollen for brood-rearing visits but one kind of flower it is termed a monotropic bee, or if only a few allied species an oligotropic bee; but if it visits many flowers it is called a polytropic bee. These terms were first proposed by Dr. Loew, and signify adapted to one, few or many flowers.

It is impossible not to feel some curiosity as to why this little bee restricts its visits to the inflorescence of the pickerel-weed. Notice that it flies only at the season of the year when this aquatic plant is in bloom, and that it finds within the perianth both food and shelter. Very likely its nests are built not far away. The flowers of the pickerel-weed strongly attract insects by their great numbers, bright hues, pleasant fragrance and abundant nectar and pollen; and consequently are sought