“Birds & the Bees”: More Than a Metaphor

Scientists say that studying bee behavior could help them understand hummingbird behavior, too. Credit DansPhotoArt on flickr, via Getty Images

Members of our team have long been fans of bees and all bird species, with a particular soft spot for hummingbirds in particular. With their gemlike plumage and engaging personality, what’s not to love?

You Should Think of Hummingbirds as Bees With Feathers

What’s small, buzzes here and there and visits flowers?

If you said bees or hummingbirds, you got it. And you wouldn’t be the first if you mixed the two up. In Medieval Europe, some called bees the smallest birds. In Chinese and Japanese, the words for hummingbird translate into “bee bird.” Today we call the smallest hummingbird — weighing less than a penny and only a bit larger than the biggest bee — the bee hummingbird.

And now a group of researchers say we should embrace our history of lumping the two together. The way scientists study bees could help them study hummingbird behavior, too, they argue in a review published Tuesday in Biology Letters.

Scientists first compared the two back in the 1970s when studying how animals forage. The idea is that animals use a kind of internal math to make choices in order to minimize the work it takes to earn maximum rewards. Researchers at the time focused on movement rules, like the order in which they visited flowers, and where flowers were located relative to others. It was “almost like an algorithm” for efficient foraging, said David Pritchard, a biologist at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who led the review. Hummingbirds and bees had similar solutions.



Read the entire article here.

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