Weird Connections: Beetles, Bees & Beets

In this crazy world of ours, I’m always surprised how so many animals and plant species interact with one another. Sometimes two things that seem to have no connection are actually directly dependent on one another. When I recently learned that beetles, bees and beets have more in common than just a few letters in their name, I was eager to  share what I learned with you guys. Image via Thomas G. Moertel [Wikipedia] Beetles are one of the most common types of animals in the world. There are already 350,000 known species, but scientists believe there could be up to 8 million more. New beetle species are discovered at an amazing rate of about one per hour. With so many different types of beetles, it’s hardly surprising there are around 750,000 trillion beetles on earth! The secret to the beetle’s success is its ability to adapt to almost any environment. They can fly, swim and burrow and different species can survive on anything from tobacco to bonemeal to carpet to strychnine to fiber insulators on cables. The also survive in all types of habitats. One species, the zonocopris gibbicolis survives exclusively on the feces of land snails, living in the best possible place to get that meal –inside the snail’s shell. As if their diets and living quarters weren’t weird enough, some beetles also have seriously strange breeding habits. The flour beetle (seen above) has sperm that attaches to the members of other beetles that breed with the same female. The sperm has a long shelf life and can then go on to fertilize the eggs of other female beetles. In fact, the female flour beetle has a one in eight chance of being fertilized by a male she never even encountered before. Image via ©Entomart [Wikipedia] The blister beetle spreads its larvae with the help of digger bees (pictured above) in what is called a honeytrap. The larvae cling together and form the shape of a female digger bee while emitting bee pheromones. A male digger bee will then approach the trap and attempt to mate with it, giving the larvae a chance to cling onto his chest hairs and hitch a ride to an actual mate. When they get the chance, the larvae then grab on to the female bee and catch a ride to the inside of the hive where they can feed on young bees and honey. Don’t think for a second that bees are always the innocent victims of beetles though. The stingless bee (pictured below) takes revenge on invading beetles not by striking them down, but by mummifying their bodies in large amounts of resin, mud and wax. The beetle then slowly suffocates before shriveling up like a mummy corpse. Image via Muhammad Mahdi Karim [Wikipedia] Bees are fascinating creatures aside from their fighting skills. Outside of humans, bees have the most sophisticated communication systems in the animal kingdom. They can tell each other exactly how to get to a food source and how good the food is using a series of different movements. This method of communication is known as the “waggle dance.” Humans can actually translate the waggle dance and scientists can actually track down a specific flower that one bee mentions to another while under observation.

Bees also have fairly good memories. They can remember human faces in laboratory tests –of course, they were given nectar every time they were shown a certain face, so they really just thought the face was a weird type of flower . The ancient Greeks, Egyptians and Babylonians believed the insects were sacred, thanks in part to their ability to provide humans with honey. Bees are the only animal to provide us with a food source that isn’t milk or meat. Honey is the only food that will never go bad. Archeologists have even eaten honey that was buried in three-thousand year-old tombs of the Pharaohs. Of course, while humans love honey, it’s not the only food source that bees are responsible for. The insects pollinate many of our fruit and vegetable crops –over $19 billion worth in the U.S. alone. Unfortunately, that means we depend on bees for the majority of our fruits and veggies. With colony collapse disorder rates increasing all the time while scientists argue about the cause, the entire bee population –and our food supply is at risk. If the colony collapse disorder manages to eradicate the entire bee population, we’ll not only be eating a lot less food in general, we’ll have to start eating a lot more beans, corn, tomatoes and beets. Because beets are incredibly nutritious and pollinated by the wind, they are one of the staple crops that scientists believe we would be forced to eat regularly if bee colonies completely collapse. But that’s not the only thing to make these veggies special. Image via Quadell [Wikipedia] While we tend to think about the red-bulbed beetroots when we hear the word “beet,” there are actually many varieties of beets including the sugar beet and Swiss chard. Beets were first cultivated around 4,000 BC and have been grown across Europe and Asia for thousands of years. During its early history, the most commonly grown beets were the leafy varieties, but after spinach cultivation began, interest turned to the beetroot and sugar beets. If you think that you don’t eat beets, you’re probably wrong. Not only is 30% of all sugar manufactured made from sugar beets rather than sugar canes, many commercial food products use beetroots for coloring and as a natural sweetener. Of course, if you love beets and eat too many, you’ll most certainly realize it –your urine will turn pink. Image via Darkone [Wikipedia] While beets may not be at the mercy of bees for pollination, they can still be victimized by other insects –particularly beetles. Those bee-hating blister beetles mentioned above (and pictured directly above) have a soft spot for potatoes, but their second favorite food is beets. While these beetles can destroy whole crops of beets, anyone who finds them on their veggies is well advised not to remove the bugs by hand –they’re named blister beetles after the injuries they give humans. The beetles secrete a chemical called a vesicant that causes swelling, blisters and burning sensations. The injuries often turn black, leave scars and become infected. What do you guys think about the beetles, bees and beets connection? Are there any other strange connections you'd like to see explored in more detail? Sources: The Book of Animal Ignorance, Scientific American, Google Books, Wikipedia #1, #2, #3

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Fantastic article. I love beets. I also have a fascination for the Melo e Angusticollis, since I found one in my beet patch a few years back.
There is a species of moth that only polinates a specific yucca in my area. And that species of moth is the only moth that pollinates the yucca. The two rely upon each other to survive.
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