英文

Mona's Musings : The colour-blind air tankers

【明報專訊】Watching bees rolling in nectar and pollen is one of the most therapeutic sights on a sunny day. It reminds me of kids tumble-turning in ball pits, safely surrounded by objects of comfort. For a fact, the tiny insect can carry loads up to half the weight of their minute bodies. Essentially, they are tankers in the air, ensuring the food supply and survival of their species.

A while ago, I had a pumpkin plant on my balcony. As Autumn landed, orangy flowers blossomed daily, infusing the air with a light fragrance. Bees wiggled their ways in and out of the trumpet-shaped flower tunnel, kicking start my mornings with a close-to-naive optimism.

Soon, however, unsolicited maggots colonised the plant. Flowers and fruits shrank and fell prematurely in an unsightly manner. As it became clear that my Halloween pumpkin wouldn't come into fruition, I removed the plant to stop maggots from spreading. The bees returned daily in futile, buzzing around and lamenting for their loss.

Guilt-ridden, I bought a hibiscus plant with a seducing red colour difficult to resist, hoping the bees would find the flowers an acceptable alternative to pumpkins. But the bees did not show up. Instead, a steady army of ants showed their appreciation to the sweet nectar. I was very puzzled — what could I possibly have done wrong?

It turned out that bees are colour-blind by human standard. They cannot see the colour red. In 1915, German-Austrian scientist Karl von Frisch conducted an experiment using cards of different colours. He placed bee food on the cards and later removed them to see if the bees would return. They did except for one — the red card. Through further testing, it was confirmed that bees cannot distinguish the colour red from black. This piece of information was crucial for the further studies on pollination, without which most of the produce we enjoy wouldn't be able to bear fruits.

Humbled by the knowledge, I've since stopped trying to rectify the micro-ecosystem I have clumsily messed up. In time, I shall breed another pumpkin plant and double up my effort in deporting pests. For now, I will just have to settle with studying ants that never seem to be tired with the hibiscus.

■Writer's Profile

Mona C. has a strong appetite for stories. Feed her enough.

Email:monafpchu@gmail.com

Facebook:www.facebook.com/monamuses

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