The evolutionary relationship between pollinating insects and plants is a complicated one, but researchers have long known that the two have coevolved for millions of years and are, therefore, mutually dependent on one another in order to survive. Researchers have recently demonstrated that plants possess an ability to sense light, mechanical stimulation and chemicals evaporating into the air. In other words, plants have the ability to see, touch and smell, but new research shows that plants can also hear. Specifically, plants can hear the sounds produced by pollinating insects. Israeli researchers have recently demonstrated how night-primrose flowers can rapidly raise the sugar concentration in their nectar in response to the buzzing of bees and the flapping of moth wings.
Since flowers depend on insects for pollination, it is necessary for flowers to attract insect pollinators with the reward of tasty nectar. For example, when the night-primrose flower hears the nearby buzzing of bees or the flapping of moth wings, it increases its sugar production so that its nectar will taste sweeter to bees and moths. The mechanism responsible for this flower’s ability to sense these sounds is not yet understood, but researchers found that the flower’s sugar production always increases when they are exposed to the sounds of buzzing bees and the flapping of moth wings. Not only that, but the increased production of sugar worked to attract more pollinating insects to the flowers. Amazingly, it took only three minutes for flowers to increase their sugar production to the point necessary for attracting bees and moths. Also, flowers alter their sugar production only when the sound of bees and moths reaches a particular frequency. High frequency sounds do not alter sugar production, but lower frequencies did result in higher sugar concentrations, as lower frequencies indicate that insect pollinators are close to the flowers. Although this research is in its infancy, experts believe that further studies will provide more information concerning the coevolution of plants and insects.
Do you think that most, or all, flowers possess the ability to sense the sounds made by pollinating insects?