Last week I found hundreds of pure green Augochlora (Augochlora pura) foraging for pollen on Zea mays at Stroud Preserve in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Here’s my favorite capture, which shows a bee cutting open an anther with her mandibles.
I was a tad surprised to see a wind-pollinated plant so mobbed with bees, but a later search of the internet suggested I shouldn’t have been. Even honey bees forage on corn, though the pollen is apparently not as desirable as other sources (e.g., Höcherl et al. 2011). This is also the reason why spraying a cornfield with insecticides can easily cause problems for any bees (and pollen wasps) that collect pollen.
This next photographs shows a better view of the scopa (modified hairs that hold the electrostatically-charged pollen) on the legs and abdomen. It also shows off how incredibly large corn pollen is (perhaps 85 microns, per some estimates, which is huge). Wind-pollinated plants with large pollen are odd.
The final photograph shows some pollen grains set in motion by the foraging bee. The odd look (line segments with bright dot in middle) are presumably caused by the flash freezing the fast-moving grains only in the middle of the exposure (1/200 of a second). I’m not exactly sure why the grains are bright. It could be because they are strongly backlit by sun, but it could be something related to how pollen grain exines bend light (they can cause a pollen corona on allergy-alert days). Someday it might be fun to get a rear-curtain flash configured to better capture such motion.
Here are some close-ups of Theobroma cacao flowers at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square. The plant is economically important (because chocolate) so people fuss over pollination a lot, but its bizarre floral anatomy is noteworthy regardless of the species’ value. The catchiest structures are the pointy red staminodes, stamens that became neutered over evolutionary time, which probably have roles in visual attraction of pollinators (ceratopogonid midges) and in preventing self pollination. The real stamens are enclosed in translucent petal pouches, though I chose to photograph this flower because one of the anthers has popped out.
According to one scenario I read, the flies first land on the exterior of the pouch, then crawl inside to lap up nectar from minute glands on the adaxial surface near the anthers. During their foraging they get coated with pollen, and some of the pollen gets deposited on the style (small white structure encircled by the staminodes) when they exit the pouch. Here’s a close-up that shows the translucent pouches:
Presumably some of transferred pollen is from previous visits at different trees (because most types are self-incompatible). These flies do such a terrible job pollinating that farmers often just do it themselves with paintbrushes and forceps. There’s even speculation that the domestication of T. cacao some 1500 years ago slowly changed the plant enough that the original pollinator(s) (bees?) were lost, with the midges being the only insects still interested in the meager nectar rewards.
The photograph below shows the cauliflory habit of the flowers, and the “parallel staminodes” variant of the flower.