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Insects love nectar. Every pollinating insect is motivated to transport pollen as a result of the wonderful taste of nectar. Even mosquitoes feed on nectar. It has long been assumed that the pollination process is kick started by the allure of nectar. If plants did not produce nectar, bees would have little reason to visit such a variety of plants. Without nectar producing glands, many plants would never become pollinated. However, there may be other reasons as to why nectar is produced. We all know that insects destroy certain plants, but insects also enjoy nectar. Nectar could be produced in order to lure insects away from parts of a plant’s anatomy that are critical for its survival and reproduction.

Researchers from a variety of different countries around the world have long considered nectar to be more than just a way to attract pollinating insects. There are plenty of insects that would feed on other flowering plants if they were not deterred from doing so by the allure of nectar. Insects often feed on the glands that produce nectar, which are referred to as nectaries. Nectar is also quite nutritious for insects. However, nectaries are not the most crucial part of a plant when it comes to its own reproduction.

As far as insects are concerned, every part of a plant is edible, so the nectary exists in order to act as a “decoy” to keep insects away from the more important organs of a plant. Plants will sacrifice their nectar and nectaries in order to maintain its other organs that are used for pollination. If insects consumed a flower’s stamen and/or stigma, for example, that flower would no longer be able to reproduce. So a decoy is necessary in order to protect flowers from the ravenous ways of insects.

Researchers studied a particular flower that is referred to as Iris bulleyana. This flower is known for attracting a great number of bees for pollination. After a field containing these flowers had been given time to mature, it was found that ninety eight percent of the flowers had been damaged by insects. However, eighty five percent of the flowers had only sustained insect damage to their nectaries, and nowhere else, not even other edible parts of the flowers. Despite the widespread damage, the majority of these flowers were not robbed of their ability to reproduce thanks to the flower’s nectaries, which the insects could not resist.

Why do you think certain insect pests devour many different plant organs, and not just the nectaries? Do these pests enjoy the taste of other plant organs as much as the nectaries?

 

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