APRIL
2001

 

 

 

By
Tom Turpin
 
Professor of
Entomology
Purdue University

 

 

 

 

 

04-12-01

All That Buzzes About Spring Flowers Are Not Bees

Spring is the season of new life, of renewal, both in nature and in the human spirit. The Teutonic goddess of spring Eastre, for whom Easter is named, is depicted holding an egg in her outstretched hand. An egg is a symbol of new life in the season.

Just as plants and animals spring to life in spring, so do poets. And many poets have noticed that the insects, which are absent during winter, suddenly reappear in springtime.

Robert Frost noticed that butterflies actually preceded many flowers in spring. In "Blue-Butterfly Day," he writes:
            "It is a blue-butterfly day here in spring,
            And with these sky-flakes down in flurry on flurry
            There is more unmixed color on the wing
            Than flowers will show for days unless they hurry."          

Frost recognizes the association of spring flowers and insects in "A Prayer in Spring":
            "Oh, give us pleasure in the orchard white,
            Like nothing else by day, like ghosts by night;
            And make us happy in the happy bees,
            The swarm dilating round the perfect trees."

James Whitcomb Riley uses a similar theme in "A Spring Song and a Later":
            "The joyous breeze among the trees
            New-clad in leaf and bloom,
            And there the happy honey-bees
            In dewy gleam and gloom."

Emily Dickinson writes that the presence of insects indicates the changing of the seasons. In "Summer's Armies," we find:
            "The dreamy butterflies bestir,
            Lethargic pools resume the whir
            O last year's sundered tune."

Bees and butterflies might be the most conspicuous of the early spring insects, but the first flowers attract all kinds of six-legged creatures. Honey bee workers find the very first flowers in order to collect pollen.

Sometimes those flowers are dandelions. But it doesn't matter; pollen is pollen to bees. The fresh pollen is essential as food, which is used to produce more bees. Many bees are needed during the late spring and early summer to collect nectar for honey production.

The butterflies are attracted to the flowers for nectar as a food source. The same is true of the solitary bees and flies that are seen buzzing around the first flowers in the spring.

Bumble bees also visit the early spring flowers. These are queen bumble bees that have overwintered and are collecting food for themselves, as well as for three or four offspring they are feeding.

Flowering plants are abuzz with activity in the springtime. The bees, beetles, flies and butterflies recognize a handout when they see it. In return, they carry pollen from flower to flower. After all, in nature there is no free lunch-even for insects in the spring!

 

Writer: Tom Turpin
Editor: Olivia Maddox