Bees protect plants as well as pollinate them

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We all know that bees are important pollinators of plants. But it turns out that they provide inadvertent "bodyguard" services as well.

In a way, they signal to caterpillars to buzz off. It happens that the flapping of bees' wings and wasps' wings seem much alike to caterpillars. Why does that matter? Because different species of wasps lay eggs in caterpillars. And caterpillars naturally avoid wasps for this very reason.

So, when bees flap their wings around caterpillars, the creepy-crawlies get scared -- thinking that the bees are wasps -- stop munching on the plants, and vamoose. And that naturally lessens damage to the plant.

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Caterpillars don't really "hear" the flapping of either wasp or honeybee wings. Scientists think that the hairs on the caterpillars' bodies sense the vibrations in the air.

The only bad news is that once plants had fruited, the caterpillars had more places to hide and didn't skedaddle when bees began flying around. But before fruiting, bees' presence decreased damage by more than 60 percent.

These findings could lead to farmers growing flowers next to some crops to help deter caterpillars and possibly even increase yields. (The tests were done on soybeans and bell pepper plants.)

They could help gardeners, too, says one of the lead researchersJürgen Tautz of the University of Würzburg in Germany.  “Alternating rows of vegetables and flowers not only look beautiful, they may reduce the use of pesticides,” he says.

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