Foraging behavior of three bee species in a natural mimicry system: female flowers which mimic male flowers in Ecballium elaterium (Cucurbitaceae)
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The behavior of Apis mellifera and two species of solitary bees which forage in the flowers of monoecious Ecballium elaterium (L.) A. Rich (Cucurbitaceae) were compared. The female flowers of E. elaterium resemble male flowers visually but are nectarless, and their number is relatively smaller. Apis mellifera was found to discriminate between the two genders and to pay relatively fewer visits to female flowers (mean of 30% relative to male flowers) from the beginning of their activity in the morning. The time spent by honeybees in female flowers is very short compared to that spent in male flowers. It is surmised that the bees remember the differences between the flowers where they foraged on the previous days. In contrast, the two species of solitary bees Lasioglossum politum (Morawitz) (Halictidae) and Ceratina mandibularis Fiese (Anthophoridae) visit the female flowers with nearly equal frequencies at the beginning of each foraging day and stay longer in these flowers. Over the day there is a decline in the relative frequency of visits to female flowers and also in the mean time spent in them. The study shows that bees can collect rewards at high efficiency from the flowers of Ecballium elaterium because of their partial discrimination ability and the scarcity of the mimic flowers. It is suggested that the memory pattern of some solitary bees may be different from that of Apis mellifera. It seems that the limited memory and discrimination ability of bees can lead to a high frequency of visits to the mimic flowers during a long flowering season.
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