Scientists Say: Nectar | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Nectar

This is a sugary fluid secreted by plants to attract pollinators
Nov 19, 2018 — 6:30 am EST
hummingbird

This hummingbird is sticking its long bill inside a flower for a nectar snack.

freebilly/iStockPhoto

Nectar (noun, “NECK-ter”)

This is a sugary liquid that plants secrete from structures called nectaries. Usually, these nectaries are found inside flowers. The nectar attracts pollinators such as beetles, bees, birds and bats. The animals get a sweet drink, and the plant gets its pollen stuck to the animal. When the animal moves on to the next flower, the pollen goes with it and can later fertilize a plant egg. That allows the plants to reproduce. The nectar serves as a bribe to keep the pollinators coming back.

Some plants also have nectaries that are not in flowers. These nectaries produce sweet nectar, but not for pollination. Instead, the nectar attracts organisms that are predators. Those predators hang around the nectaries for snacks, and they also attack other animals who might try to eat the plant. It’s still a sugary bribe, but this time it’s a bribe for defense.

In a sentence

Bees prefer nectar that’s been spiked with caffeine, proving that even bees like a good buzz.
 

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Power Words

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bat     A type of winged mammal comprising more than 1,100 separate species — or one in every four known species of mammal.

beetle     An order of insects known as Coleoptera, containing at least 350,000 different species. Adults tend to have hard and/or horn-like “forewings” which covers the wings used for flight.

birds     Warm-blooded animals with wings that first showed up during the time of the dinosaurs. Birds are jacketed in feathers and produce young from the eggs they deposit in some sort of nest. Most birds fly, but throughout history there have been the occasional species that don’t.

caffeine     A natural, plant-based stimulant, which activates the nervous system and heart. The leaves, seeds and fruits of many plants contain caffeine. In coffee plants and tea bushes, caffeine acts as a natural pesticide. It will kill or harm insects that attempt to dine on the plant. Caffeine is also toxic to some types of plants, bacteria — even frogs and dogs.

defense     (in biology) A natural protective action taken or chemical response that occurs when a species confront predators or agents that might harm it. (adj. defensive)

egg     The unfertilized reproductive cell made by females.

fertilize     (in biology) The merging of a male and a female reproductive cell (egg and sperm) to set in create a new, independent organism. (in agriculture and horticulture) To provide basic chemical nutrients for growth.

liquid     A material that flows freely but keeps a constant volume, like water or oil.

nectar     A sugary fluid secreted by plants, especially by flowers. It encourages pollination by insects and other animals. It is collected by bees to make into honey.

organ     (in biology) Various parts of an organism that perform one or more particular functions. For instance, an ovary is an organ that makes eggs, the brain is an organ that makes sense of nerve signals and a plant’s roots are organs that take in nutrients and moisture.

organism     Any living thing, from elephants and plants to bacteria and other types of single-celled life.

pollen     Powdery grains released by the male parts of flowers that can fertilize the female tissue in other flowers. Pollinating insects, such as bees, often pick up pollen that will later be eaten.

pollinator     Something that carries pollen, a plant’s male reproductive cells, to the female parts of a flower, allowing fertilization. Many pollinators are insects such as bees.

predator     (adjective: predatory) A creature that preys on other animals for most or all of its food.

secrete     (noun: secretion) The natural release of some liquid substance — such as hormones, an oil or saliva — often by an organ of the body.