F&I 1: Newton's 2nd Law (HS), F&I 1: Newton's 3rd Law (MS), F&I 2: Newton's 1st Law (MS), F&I 2: Newton's 3rd Law (HS), F&I 3: Electric/Magnetic Forces (MS), F&I 4: Gravity & Electrostatic Forces (HS), F&I 4: Gravity & Mass (MS), F&I 5: Electricity & Magnets (HS), F&I 5: Force Fields (MS), Forces & Interactions, Physical Science, S&P 2: Investigating Electrical Force (HS), Structure & Properties of Matter, W 1: Graphing Waves (MS), W 1: Wave Relationships (HS), W 2: Wave Behavior (MS), W 3: Modeling Electromagnetic Radiation (HS), Waves & Electromagnetic Radiation

The physics of pollinator attraction

The physics of pollinator attraction

SUMMARY: This article focuses on the physical properties of plants that have evolved to help them select the appropriate pollinators and discourage non-pollinators (nectar stealers). Starting with the shape of the cells, the petals of a flower often have cone shaped cells. This shape helps to scatter more light giving the flower a more intense and glittery appearance. Flowers with a “color” mutation actually produce the same pigment, but their cells are flat instead of cone shaped and they look duller and more washed out. Cone shaped cells also help pollinators grip better; however, parts of the flower where the plant wants to discourage nectar stealers are lined with flat cells, decreasing grip ability. Finally electrostatic forces build up on flying pollinators (like bees and hummingbirds) that attract pollen. The stigma of the receiving plant is also electrostatically charged to better attract the pollen from incoming pollinators.

LESSON COMMENTS: There are a lot of physics topics that can be covered: light, reflection, refraction, electrostatic forces, friction, to name a few. I tried to talk about the most interesting points in the summary but there is a lot more (and cool figures and graphs) in the paper. There’s even a section talking about the mechanics of a plant dumping pollen specifically on the back of insects. Physics teachers, you might be able to use this article to inspire research projects or science experiments!

Moyroud, E., & Glover, B. J. (2016). The physics of pollinator attraction. New Phytologist,216(2), 350-354. doi:10.1111/nph.14312