Monday, 02 November 2020 11:39

Australian researchers find bees that have adapted vision for foraging at night

The female of the Meroglossa gemmata species. The female of the Meroglossa gemmata species. Photo: James Dorey

A team of Australian ecology researchers have found two species of Australian bees that have, for the first time, adapted their vision for night-time conditions, a research paper claims.

A statement from Flinders University said night-time foraging behaviour had been observed in the case of nomiine (Reepenia bituberculata) and masked (Meroglossa gemmata) bee species.

Both developed enlarged compound and simple eyes which allowed more light to be gathered when compared to their kin who operated during the day.

The researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of Hymenoptera Research, said it was possible that the improved low-light ability was also present in other Australian species which were secretly active at night, with their image processing ability best observed through high-resolution close-up images.

Doctoral candidate James Dorey, who is with the College of Science & Engineering at Flinders University and was one of four authors of the paper, says the two Australian bee species active at night and during twilight hours are mostly found in the tropical north, but there could potentially be more in arid, sub-tropical and maybe even temperate conditions across the continent.

bees night big

A bee belonging to the Reepenia bituberculata species. Photo: James Dorey

The other three authors of the paper are Erinn P. Fagan-Jeffries of the University of Adelaide, Mark I. Stevens of the South Australian Museum, Adelaide, and Michael P. Schwarz of Flinders University, Adelaide.

“We have confirmed the existence of at least two crepuscular bee species in Australia and there are likely to be many more that can forage both during the day and into the early morning or evening under low light conditions," Dorey said.

"It’s true that bees aren’t generally known to be very capable when it comes to using their eyes at night, but it turns out that low-light foraging is more common than currently thought.

“Before this study, the only way to show that a bee had adapted to low-light was by using difficult-to-obtain behavioural observations, but we have found that you should be able to figure this out by using high-quality images of a specific bee.”

Dorey said bees that forage during dim-light conditions had not been studied enough, with no previously reliable published records for any Australian species.

“Our study provides a framework to help identify low-light-adapted bees and the data that is needed to determine the behavioural traits of other species," he said.

"This is important as we need to increase efforts to collect bee species outside of normal hours and publish new observations to better understand the role that they play in maintaining ecosystems.”

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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