Mechanics of nectar feeding in the orchid bee Euglossa imperialis: pressure, viscosity and flow

  • Borrell B
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The orchid bee Euglossa imperialis sucks nectars through a slender proboscis. I tested how nectar properties influence this suction pressure and whether ambient air pressure sets the upper limit for suction feeding. Nectar intake rate was measured as a function of sucrose concentration (5-75% w/w), nectar viscosity (2-80 mPa s), and ambient pressure (101-40 kPa). Intake rate declines from about 1.2 mul s(-1) to 0.003 mul s(-1) as sucrose concentration increases from 15% to 65% sucrose. When sucrose concentration is held at 25% while viscosity increases from 2 to 80 mPa s, intake rate declines. When viscosity is held at 10.2 mPa s (the viscosity of 50% sucrose) while sucrose concentration increases from 5% to 50%, intake rate remains constant. Intake rate was limited by a reduction in ambient pressure at all nectar concentrations. Assuming a rigid proboscis, the Hagen-Poiseuille equation suggests that suction pressure increases with viscosity from 10 kPa at 5% sucrose to 45 kPa at 65% sucrose. However, because intake rate declined by the same fraction under hypobaria (40 kPa) at all sucrose concentrations, the euglossine bee proboscis may be better described as a collapsible tube: expanding or collapsing depending on the flow rate, the pressure gradient along the proboscis, and circumferential forces imposed by the proboscis walls.

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  • B. J. Borrell

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