Bee tongues are getting shorter due to climate change

Increasing global temperatures are upsetting the bee population, and in more ways than one. A new report details how alpine bumblebees in Colorado are experiencing a shortening of the tongue due to a decrease in the number of their preferred flowers. Certain types of flowers require long tongues for bees to reach the sweet nectar inside. As those flowers become more scarce, bees tongues are becoming shorter as they gravitate toward more shallow flower types.

Decreased flower populations mean bees in the Rocky Mountains have to search harder for nectar, and can't be picky when they come across a suitable plant. Long tongued bees will probably spend more time searching around for deep flowers, while bees with shorter tongues will be less particular about the flowers from which they feed.

Researchers looked at bee populations across three locations in the alpines; one of those sites show a 60 percent decrease in flowers since the 1970s. Using what was no doubt a painstaking process, the researchers measured the tongue length of 170 bees. That data was compared with similar data gathered a few decades ago.

What they discovered is that two bee species in the region, Bombus sylvicola and Bombus balteatus, have shorter tongues than they did 40 years ago. Flower population declines are cited as the most likely cause of the tongue shortening issue — a sort of very rapid evolution in response to a changing environment. That evolution, it turns out, could be an important aspect of bee survival in the face of changing climates.

SOURCE: Nature