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Hail to the Pollinators

The United States Postal Service honored pollinators this year with a beautiful set of stamps showing bees, butterflies, bats and hummingbirds going about their vital duty, turning lovely flowers into seeds, fruits, berries and vegetables. Of course, those are just a few of the pollinators that play such an essential part in providing food for us humans and other animals. Did you know that bats alone pollinate more than 300 kinds of plants that humans use?

I was browsing through the December issue of the Smithsonian Magazine and found that the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History is also interested in pollinators. Their upcoming exhibit Partners in Evolution: Butterflies and Plants will open in February. One of the stories they will tell is of the discovery of the giant hawk moth that has a proboscis long enough to reach the nectar at the bottom of the foot long throat of the Madagascar star orchid. This would have been exciting enough, but what makes it especially so is that Darwin predicted the existence of such a moth. Hence the moth has been given the appropriate moniker Xanthopan morganii praedicta “in honor of Darwin’s prescience.”

The magazine had still more to say about pollinators. “Cycad Sex is Hot!” University of Utah researchers have found that the temperature of the male cones of the Macrozamia lucida cycad (a tree resembling a palm, but with fern-like foliage) goes up 20 degrees at midday, releasing toxic chemicals that cause the thrips that eat the cones to beat a retreat. The thrips are laden with pollen and flee to the oh-so-cool female cycad cones. Mother Nature is certainly inventive.

Pollinators – we salute you.

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