SNIPPETS

A floral cell carpet for bees

Scientists have long known that the petals of most flowering plants have cone-shaped cells not found anywhere else on the plants.

This landscape of miniature mountains, researchers now report, acts like a surface of Velcro that pollinating bees can cling to. The feature is particularly useful when the wind starts blowing strongly. “The bee has claws on its feet, and it can lock into the gaps between the cells,” said Beverley Glover, a botanist at the University of Cambridge in England and an author of the new study, which appears in the journal Functional Ecology.

They placed bees in cages, studying their behaviour toward petunias that have the conical cells and toward mutant petunias with flatter cells.

At first, the bees exhibited only a slight preference for the flowers with conical cells. “But then we thought, flowers are on stalks and the wind sways them,” Glover said.
To simulate the effect of wind, the researchers put the flowers on a shaking platform, and the more it shook, the more the bees appeared to prefer the conical-cell petunias.

It eats like no   other animal

A New Zealand lizard called the tuatara eats like no other animal, researchers report in a new study: By sliding its lower jaw forward and backward, it can slice its food like a steak knife.

As the lizard chews, the lower jaw closes between two rows of upper teeth. Then the jaw slides forward just a few millimeters, and the sharp teeth saw the food.

“What it seems to allow the tuatara to do is access a broad diet, quite a lot of insects, beetles, wingless insects, crickets, spiders, snails and also other lizards, frogs and seabirds,” said Marc E H Jones, an evolutionary biologist at University College London and the first author of the study, which appears in The Anatomical Record.

Deep-sea microbes that barely breathe

Deep-sea microbes living in Pacific Ocean deposits that have remained untouched for 86 million years consume oxygen in quantities too small to be measured. Until now.

“We normally cannot see what rate they are working at,” Hans Roy, a geomicrobiologist at Aarhus University in Denmark, said of the microbes.

For a study in the current issue of the journal Science, Roy and his team measured the oxygen concentration in layers of sediment gathered from the sea bottom in the North Pacific Gyre, off Hawaii, 100 feet below the surface.

The researchers calculated how much oxygen should have diffused into each layer of the sediment. The deepest microbes that the researchers observed used just 0.001 femtomoles of oxygen per day; to put it another way, it would take 10 years for a microbe to consume the amount that a human inhales in a single breath.

“They are surviving on a minimum energy limit,” Roy said. The deep-sea microbes still largely remain a mystery to scientists, he added. Because the microbes are so slow-moving, they are difficult to study.

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