Sunday, 1 June 2014

Bees 'n beans (and an ant 'milking' an aphid)

We've been growing broad beans as part of a citizen science project being run by the University of Sussex. The point of the experiment is to see what's happening to the bees and how that impacts our crops. We have 4 broad bean plants: one is left to be pollinated by the wild bees, a second is covered so cannot be pollinated by bees and a third is hand-pollinated (using flowers from a fourth plant). At the end of the experiment we record how many beans each plant produces ... then eat the broad beans!

The bean plants have started flowering, so we've moved onto the recording phase of the experiment. We have to count the flowers each week and hand-pollinate plant 3. We also have to spend 15 minutes watching for bees and hoverflies on the flowers. First weeks recording completed - no bees seen on the plants, but there were plenty around. I've never hand-pollinated a plant before, but it seems easy enough once you get the hang of it.

I did notice something interesting - I believe this is a black ant 'milking' an aphid. Apparently the ants tickle the aphids so they secrete sweet honeydew. Then the ants protect the aphids from predators. I watched them for about five minutes and both ant and aphid seemed quite happy together.

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