Organic Beekeeping

The natural way to raise bees.

When bees really want that nectar…

Posted with permission from author Linda Beutler

Bee-Happy!

Earlier in the year I posted about some strange behavior seen by European honeybees on one particularly fecund seedling in the FRCC test plot. They seemed to be trying to pry sepals apart to get to the nectary chamber, formerly only accessed by hummingbirds.They succeeded!

After working and working, tag-teams of the bees managed to separate the sepals at the broadest diameter of the flowers, as shown in the first picture, and get at the nectar. The opening shows the visible bruising consistent with the forcing apart of the sepals. Keep in mind that bees exploiting the blossoms this way are not pollinating the flower, because they have no contact with the anthers. Free-loaders!

Clematis 'BeeHappy'

No native bees have been seen engaging in this activity, and the hummingbirds (both Anna’s and Rufous hummingbirds) continue to pollinate the flowers until the bees have cracked the sepals apart on a given flower. The hummingbirds move on to newly opened flowers, and cease pollinating the flowers disfigured by the bees. And unfortunately, once the bees mastered the skill of opening this shape of clematis blossom, they applied their lessons to ‘Fudo’ and other Viornae group hybrids. Yes, they’re quick learners, I’ll give ‘em that!

Clematis 'BeeHappy'

This “tutorial” seedling, which showed great vigor and stamina, has been named ‘Bee Happy’. We will be propagating it for sale. The flowers, in the typical “bonnet” shape, are rosy-mauve in color, with the exterior fading to silver as the flowers age. We assume it to be a pitcheri x crispa cross, and it is lightly fragrant, but shows no crispate edges. We’ll be sending more details to Clematis on the Web, and will be registering the name with the RHS clematis registrar.

The bees seem to know there is nectar in these blossoms, but there isn’t room for them to crawl up into the flower—the bees are too big, and the stamens too tightly packed. Undaunted, the bees attempted to separate the seams between the sepals, using forelegs and mouth parts to try to pry an opening to access the nectar. I watched their efforts for about 10 minutes before realizing I should be taking pictures! During the time I observed the honeybees, I didn’t see any of them succeed in opening the sepal edges, and was surprised that the bees would expend so much energy trying. A couple of rows away, native bumblebees were feasting on a Clematis macropetala seedling’s flowers (the same plant that Killdeer’s nested under a year ago), an open bell much easier to navigate in, and a flower not exploited by the hummingbirds.

Why would so many non-native bees be trying so hard to crack these clematis blooms? I did detect a slight fragrance, but there are many easier plants to drink from nearby. If these bees are ever successful at opening clematis in this nontraditional way, I’ll let you know.

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One thought on “When bees really want that nectar…

  1. Thank you for photographing this, I knew honeybees did this but hadn’t seen any good photos of this behaviour before. Honeybees are all about the sugar content so if easier flowers were nearby I’m guessing the clematis must have a high sugar-water ratio in its nectar.

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