Bumblebees Influence Flowering

One of the primary pollinators of flowers throughout the world is the bees. Bumblebees of genus Bombus are some of the most well known. Recent research has revealed that bumblebees do more than just passively acquire pollen and pass it from flower to flower. They can actually influence flowering time in certain flowers and do so deliberately.  This implies a certain amount of knowledge of both how plants work, and logic to be able to recognize that one action influences another.

In order to understand what goes on here, we need to have an understanding of bees. Bumblebees live in small colonies, known as hives. The hives are ruled by a dominant female queen, whose primary duty is laying eggs. The eggs hatch either into male drone bees, or female worker bees. The drone bees’ sole purpose is to mate with the female when she is ready. The female worker bees perform the day to day work of the hive from feeding the larva to foraging for pollen and nectar.

The worker bumblebees are very good at their task. They flit from flower to flower, sipping nectar for themselves and accumulating both pollen and nectar as they move from flower to flower. The nectar they do not consume will be taken home to feed the hive, while the pollen they will either pass to a flower, or take home to feed their larvae.  Most bumblebees are major factors in pollinating plants so it is vital that they are able to access flowers upon coming out of hibernation, both for themselves and for the plants.

However, sometimes when the bees wake up at the end of winter, plants have not flowered yet. Alternatively, some environmental conditions may not be favorable for the local plants to flower. This could be the death of the bumblebee larvae in short order if they cannot find pollen to feed them. If local pollen is not available, the bees take matters into their own hands. The worker bees will slightly damage leaves of plants that are not yet flowering.

The damage serves as a sort of message to the plant.  The plant, sensing the damage the bees have done, accelerates its flowering time.  The amount of damage the bees did was strongly correlated to the amount of available pollen. If there was an abundant supply of pollen, the damage was minimal. If pollen was less available, the damage increased. If pollen was scarce, the bumblebees did more damage.

This is an incredibly interesting find and the implications are intriguing. The worker bumblebees clearly know that, if they damage the plant, it will flower faster, providing them with lifesaving pollen for their larvae. The question is, how do they know this?

This question could be answered two ways. The first is purely naturalistic. This knowledge could be the result of an epigenetically inherited behavior. In other words, at some point, a bumblebee could have learned to damage leaves of plants that were not flowering to make them flower more quickly. However, this idea has problems.   Learning this procedure epigenetically would have required the bee to perform a fairly complex experiment. It would have to know how long it takes for the plant in question to flower, test the hypothesis that damaging the leave would accelerate flowering, and then continually revisit the same plant to see if the hypothesis was confirmed.  This level of logic and reason seems to be beyond a bumblebee. Bumblebee brains are tiny, just 0.0002 percent the size of a human brain. That makes it around 29 micrometers in length. Such a brain does not seem to have the necessary capacity to perform a scientific experiment.

The alternative is one that is likely to be unpalatable to the evolutionary science community.  It is possible that this knowledge of how to speed up plants flowering was built into the bumblebee from the beginning. It was never learned, it was inborn into the very first bumblebee. Such an instinct makes sense in light of a very good original creation. God could have designed this instinct into the original creation and, since plants are not alive in the Biblical sense, it would not violate the original very good nature of creation.

While evolution has little to explain the instinct of a bumblebee to damage a plant to cause flower production to speed up, creation can explain it easily. The bumblebee was designed to do exactly what it does in order to survive and thrive. Any other explanation requires a torturing of both the Scripture and what we know of science.


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