Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Who knew that cats are their protectors?

Good to the Last Drop
After taking this photo of a bumblebee enjoying one of our last summery days, I looked them up in Wikipedia and came across this lovely passage by Charles Darwin on bumblees (called "humble bees" in England at the time) -- and clover, mice and cats as well.
Plants and animals, most remote in the scale of nature, are bound together by a web of complex relations. [...] I have [...] reason to believe that humble-bees are indispensable to the fertilisation of the heartsease (Viola tricolor), for other bees do not visit this flower. From experiments which I have tried, I have found that the visits of bees, if not indispensable, are at least highly beneficial to the fertilisation of our clovers; but humble-bees alone visit the common red clover (Trifolium pratense), as other bees cannot reach the nectar. Hence I have very little doubt, that if the whole genus of humble-bees became extinct or very rare in England, the heartsease and red clover would become very rare, or wholly disappear. The number of humble-bees in any district depends in a great degree on the number of field-mice, which destroy their combs and nests; and Mr. H. Newman, who has long attended to the habits of humble-bees, believes that 'more than two thirds of them are thus destroyed all over England.' Now the number of mice is largely dependent, as every one knows, on the number of cats; and Mr. Newman says, 'Near villages and small towns I have found the nests of humble-bees more numerous than elsewhere, which I attribute to the number of cats that destroy the mice.' Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district!
After all the bad press outdoor cats get for going after birds, it's nice to know that they're also, indirectly, protectors of bumblebees.

1 comment:

joel hanes said...

When the wolves came back to Yellowstone, resurrected aspen forests sprang up in places where they'd stood in earlier centuries, the extirpation of wolves had allowed the elk to browse them away completely.