Hello – greetings from Turkana in Northern Kenya…
Up here checking in on my lab at the Turkana Basin Institute and spent half a day looking at bees pollinating the cucumbers being cultivated at the institute. Cucumbers are one of my favourite salad items and make a refreshing snack up here in the desert at lunchtime. Cucumbers are yet another example of a food item that we enjoy thanks to pollinators.
Cucumbers are in the family of plants called Cucurbits (Curcubitaceae), that includes watermelons, pumpkins, squashes and gourds.
Most members of this plant family are dependent on pollinators, and many of them have separate male and female flowers (though these can occur on the same individual plant).
It has rained up here in Turkana about a week a ago and the ground is delicately painted with flowers and the air filled with bees and butterflies.
Here are some of the bees and their antics on the cucumber flowers.
One of the first bees to arrive was the lovely Macrogalea bee, who also spent time sunning themselves on the flowers:
After warming themselves on the cucumber flowers, the Macrogalea bees dove into the flowers and as you can see were soon coated with pollen and moving it around the flowers:
They were also visiting the flowers of a different cucurbit (a butternut squash variety), nearby:
As the morning grew hotter, the next bee-shift appeared and these guys whizzed about the cucumber patch with dizzying speed. One of my favourite bees, known as Amegilla:
The Amegilla bees moved speedily between the different patches of cucumber plants, this makes them efficient pollinators as they transport pollen between different individual plants.
There were at least two different species of Amegilla present, the beige-grey one and this brightly coloured orange one visiting the cucumber flowers:
Bees were not the only insects visiting the flowers, a Grass Yellow butterfly (Eurema sp.) also stopped by. Although it was a faithful visitor, it didn’t seem to be carrying much pollen around.
The bees kept coming and going throughout the morning and we enjoyed some of the cucumbers at lunch!
More from the wonderful world (and work!) of insects soon…