Bird Fact Fridays – Flowerpiercers, the Evolutionary “Cheaters”

From page 173 in The New Neotropical Companion:

Flowerpiercers (a group of 16 bird species related to tanagers), like hummingbirds, consume nectar from flowers . But they “cheat.” Rather than forage within the flower, where they might encounter pollen and thus aid in cross-pollination, they use their delicately upturned and hooked bills to pierce the flower at its base and access the nectar without ever encountering the pollen.

Indigo Flowerpiercer

The Indigo Flowerpiercer (Diglossa indigotica) occurs in cloud forest in western Colombia and northwestern Ecuador. There are 16 flowerpiercer species in South America. Photo by Andrew Whittaker.

Flower traits have been shown to evolve not only to attract certain pollinating species but also to discourage species that are ineffective pollinators or pollen robbers. Adaptations to reduce nectar robbery include adding toxins to the nectar that discourage robbers but not pollinators, flowering at times when nectar robbers are inactive, growing near plants that offer better food sources for nectar robbers, or evolving flowers that are physically difficult for robbers to access.

New Neotropical Companion CoverThe New Neotropical Companion
John Kricher
Chapter One

The New Neotropical Companion is the completely revised and expanded edition of a book that has helped thousands of people to understand the complex ecology and natural history of the most species-rich area on Earth, the American tropics. Featuring stunning color photos throughout, it is a sweeping and cutting-edge account of tropical ecology that includes not only tropical rain forests but also other ecosystems such as cloud forests, rivers, savannas, and mountains. This is the only guide to the American tropics that is all-inclusive, encompassing the entire region’s ecology and the amazing relationships among species rather than focusing just on species identification.

The New Neotropical Companion is a book unlike any other. Here, you will learn how to recognize distinctive ecological patterns of rain forests and other habitats and to interpret how these remarkable ecosystems function—everything is explained in clear and engaging prose free of jargon. You will also be introduced to the region’s astonishing plant and animal life.

This post is part of a series, explore additional posts here<< Bird Fact Friday – Harris’s Hawks hunt cooperativelyBird Fact Friday – All About Trogons >>