Floral biodiversity in the Arctic and in alpine ecosystems worldwide is declining as rising temperatures dry out soils, and in the Colorado Rockies, a new study reports, this has led to bumblebees with shorter tongues. Yes, bumblebees have tongues (actually called ‘glossa”), and some species have lengthier ones than others.
A long-tongued bee will unroll its glossa deep into long-tubed flowers to lick up nectar, while short-tongued bees will go to just about any bloom to slurp up whatever they can reach. Long-tongued bee bodies are built to feed off long-tubed flowers. For the extra effort it expends growing its lengthy appendage, the bee gets the reward of gobs of sweet, juicy nectar buried in the bottom of the flower that other buzzers miss out on.
So why are these tongues going out of style in a warming West? By comparing bumblebee specimens from 1966 to 1980 with samples from 2012 to 2014, the researchers found that the glossa of two species of long-tongued bees have gotten 24 percent shorter over the last 40 years. As to the cause, the authors point to the loss of millions of flowers in parts of the region.