What’s wrong with this picture?

To celebrate spring, Google’s Doodle uses an artsy little bumblebee disturbing some pretty flowers. As a beekeeper I am always happy to see bee thingies, but I wish that such artists would consider a wee dab of natural science in their creations. It is a common myth that bees like garden flowers. Usually they do not.

Although bees and flowers partnered up about 100 million years ago, not every flower is enticing to every bee. Among the 20,000 bee species, there are specialized bees (long-tongued bees, early-morning bees, etc.) filing ecological niches matched by specialized flowers (deeply recessed nectaries, early-morning bloomers, etc.). The flowers that are the most attractive to bees seldom match the flowers selected by human eyes to beautify parks and gardens.

I am not a botanist, but it seems to me that the bumblebee in the Google Doodle would have little interest in the flowers shown. The most identifiable, the tulip farthest on the right, is certainly a spring flower, but I have rarely seen any bee on a tulip – unless she is tired, lost, or confused. In the Google image, the tulip is red (as is a flower near the center, which appears to be a carnation). Bee vision is spectrum-shifted. Red (to us) appears black to a bee and is not attractive at all, while the colour we perceive as boring white is often a very attractive ultra-violet in the bee’s mind.

Nevertheless, I know it is all the rage to “Save the Bees” (even though they are not disappearing) and it is a fine gesture on the part of the Google Doodlers to show the flowers and the bee. Even if their science is a bit amiss.

About Ron Miksha

Ron Miksha is a bee ecologist working at the University of Calgary. He is also a geophysicist and does a bit of science writing and blogging. Ron has worked as a radio broadcaster, a beekeeper, and Earth scientist. (Ask him about seismic waves.) He's based in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
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