Andreia just returned from a full summer of driving (from Missouri to Florida and back!), several hours in the sun, long hikes in search for female orchid bee colonies and, more importantly, lots and lots of beautiful male orchid bees! These metallic green bees are major pollinators in tropical forests, which makes them an essential part of the ecosystem. Orchid bees are closely related to bumblebees and honeybees, but unlike their relatives, orchid bees do not form hives or colonies and do not show a true division of labor. That implies in one bee being responsible for foraging for multiple resources. All orchid bees need nectar, which is their food source, but males also visit flowers to collect scents (that they probably use to attract females), while females visit flowers to collect resin (which they use to build their nests) and pollen (which they use to feed their young). Because male and female bees have different needs, they end up visiting and pollinating different flowers from different species. In other words, multiple species of plants depend on these bees for pollination and the plant’s survival is dependent on the bees finding the flowers and moving pollen from one flower to another. Andreia’s work focuses on how male and female orchid bees learn about floral cues (color and scent), and she is currently continuing her experiments with bees that she shipped from Florida to the St. Louis Zoo.
It was a busy summer, and Aimee joined Andreia for the last part of the field season and the drive back (when they both memorized the soundtrack for The Lion King Broadway musical).