What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination

Subject: Bee
Location: Chiriqui Panama, Central America
July 12, 2013 12:12 pm
This bee has a strange ”backpack” on it’s back and , in addition to a ”normal” bee tongue-tube, it appears to lower and extend it’s lower mandible and some pinkish ”baleen” comes out. What is this bee and what is the story with these two strange characteristics?
Signature: Linda

Bee from Panama

Orchid Bee from Panama with Pollinarium

Dear Linda,
Thank you for sending us your wonderful photographs of this unusual Bee.

Bee from Panama

Orchid Bee from Panama

We believe that it looks identical to an Orchid Bee, Eulaema cingulata, that we posted some years back.  Karl assisted us in that identification and he provided us some links.  We believe the “backpack” you observed is an orchid pollen pack or pollinarium.  Karl wrote:  “Apparently male Euglossine bees are attracted to certain orchids not to gather nectar, which these orchids don’t possess, but rather to collect fragrant compounds which are then used to attract female bees. The male flowers are designed so that the pollinarium is flung onto the bee when it lands, where it sticks until the bee visits a female flower where it completes the pollination. Both males and females visit other flowers to obtain the nectar they need.”  Karl also provided us with a link to this photo of an Orchid Bee with a pollinarium that looks like your documentation.  Here is a photo of a mounted specimen with a pollinarium from Spiegel Online, but alas, we don’t read German.  The Biodiversity of Belize website has a similar photograph and you must scroll to the bottom of the page.  There the site offers the information about Eulaema cingulata:  “Males of this and related species pollinate a number of Neotropical orchids such as this Catasetum. These male bees visit the flowers nut so much as for the nectar but in order to obtain certain chemicals they need. For this reason the males can also be attracted by using benzyl acetate and other chemical substances as bait.  The bee to the right is incapacitated by a pollinarium of Catasetum integerrimum that is stuck to its wing. It was unable to remove this pollinarium and only after I removed it myself, the bee was able to fly again.”  The interconnectivity of all things on this planet includes such highly specialized adaptations as the pollination of a specific orchid by a specific Orchid Bee.

Orchid Bee with Pollinarium

Orchid Bee with Pollinarium

Julian Donahue provides some information.
I think the word is “pollinium,” plural “pollinia,” at least that’s the way I’ve always seen it.
Milkweeds have a similar pollination apparatus, with pollen “clips” that I’ve seen attached to the legs and other parts of various moths.

Ed. Note:
Encyclopedia Britannica online provides this definition for pollinarium:  “…the caudicles, which are derived from the anther. Orchids that have a stipe also have caudicles that connect the pollinia to the apex of the stipe. The pollinia, stipe, and viscidium are called the pollinarium.”  Encyclopedia Britannica online provides this definition for pollinium:  “The pollen grains are usually bound together by threads of a clear, sticky substance (viscin) in masses called pollinia. Two basic kinds of pollinia exist: one has soft, mealy packets bound together to a viscin core by viscin threads and is called sectile; the other kind ranges from soft, mealy pollinia, through more compact masses, to hard, waxlike pollinia; the latter usually have some mealy…”  So, when other parts of the plant (orchid) are included with the pollen, pollinarium is more correct.  Guess we need an orchid expert to determine which word is more correct in this situation. 

Daniel and Karl,
Thank you so much for your assistance. You have a wonderful resource for those of us who like to know what is around us. I have been photographing and documenting what we find in our property here in Panama and so many of the insects are new to me. I have an interesting praying mantis with purple spots that I will send next time. Thank you.

A belated comment
Subject: Orchid Bee’s
July 18, 2013 8:53 pm
There are pictures of an orchid bee with a strange appendage on it’s back. I may know what that is. There is a certain orchid in Costa Rica that blooms in the lowland broad leaf deciduous forest which is a member of the lady slipper orchids. When the flower is ripe and opens it has a spring mechanism within it that when triggered by the orchid bee it shoots a small miniature plant like thing (see orchid bee picture and appendage stuck to it’ back) that has some sort of latex glue on it. I actually think it’s a miniature plant, that the bee gets to transport on it’s back to a new location thus not only pollinating the plant but taking it’s offspring to a new location. This is a theory.
Signature: Daniel Shields

Thanks Daniel,
We recently posted photos of an Orchid Bee with the Pollinarium of an orchid on its back.




What's That Bug? does not endorse extermination
Location: Chiriqui, Panama

2 Responses to Orchid Bee from Panama with Pollinarium

  1. Julian Donahue says:

    Bless the botanists, they have an incredibly precise and HUGE vocabulary, and I am constantly discovering new descriptive terms. “Pollinarium,” however, is a new one to me. I have pulled four books from my library, and not one has the word “pollinarium” in it. To wit:

    “Most orchids rely upon insects, especially members of the Hymenoptera and Lepidoptera, to help the fertilization of their flowers. When an insect in search of nectar visits an orchid flower it comes in contact with the viscidium, a sticky disk connected by a stalk to the pollinia. The viscidium adheres to the insect, taking with it the pollinia which are carried on to another flower, so ensuring cross-fertilization.” So there you have the three parts that comprise the pollinarium, although that word doesn’t appear here. [Field Guide to Orchids of North America by Williams & Williams, Universe Books, 1983, ISBN 0-87663-415-3]

    “pollen grain sticky, gen[erally] removed as sessile anther sacs” [The Jepson Manual: Higher Plants of California, ed. by James C. Hickman, University of California Press, 1993, ISBN 0-520-08255-9]

    “pollinium, singular noun, pollinia, plural” [Botanical Latin by William T. Stearn, Hafner Publishing Co., 1966] (no mention of “pollinarium”)

    “Pollinium. A more or less coherent mass of pollen grains, as in the Orchidaceae and Asclepiadaceae.” [Hortus Third: A Concise Dictionary of Plants Cultivated in the United States and Canada, rev. by staff of Liberty Hyde Bailey Hortorium, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1976] (no mention of “pollinarium”)

    It would appear that the terms “pollinium/pollinia” are more widely used and accepted than “pollinarium.” Our WTB host is correct in that a much closer examination of the structure being carried by the bee is required before we can determine which term is more precise in this case.

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