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SCIENCE FILE | Science in Brief

Bees May Replace Now-Rare Birds in Pollinating New Zealand Mistletoe

December 19, 1996|From Times staff and wire reports

A tiny bee may help save New Zealand's unusual exploding mistletoe by replacing the now-rare birds that used to be the only creatures that could pollinate it, scientists report in the Dec. 19 Nature. The lightweight bees have learned how to wrestle open the flowers of the mistletoe, which cannot open by themselves.

The mistletoe had developed a close relationship with honeyeater birds, which use their strong beaks to twist and break open the tightly closed flowers, causing the pollen to explode outward. But honeyeaters are becoming scarce. Plant scientist Dave Kelly of the University of Canterbury in Christchurch discovered that the bees could also open the flowers, "which is to our knowledge the first documented case of an invertebrate opening an expansive, bird-pollinated flower."

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