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Science Notes: Butterfly wings are vital to azaleas’ survival; dinosaur fossil reveals relative of triceratops

Butterfly wings vital to azaleas’ survival

With flowers in bursts of orange and red, flame azaleas attract several types of pollinators. But these azaleas must rely almost entirely on butterflies to reproduce, researchers have found.

The anther and the stigma – the male and female parts of the flower where pollen is produced and then germinated – are too far apart for other insects to be effective.

“In order for a plant to reproduce, a pollinator – usually an insect – has to spread the pollen from the anther to the stigma,” said Mary Jane Epps, a biologist at North Carolina State University and a study author.

With the flame azalea, the distance “meant that it was unlikely for a bee or other small pollinator to come into contact with both anther and stigma during a visit,” Epps added.

The azalea relies primarily on eastern tiger swallowtails. These butterflies move their wings continuously, and the fanning motion enables the transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma, Epps said.

The findings, which appear in the American Naturalist, suggest that some plants depend on very few insect species for pollination.

“It’s important that we find out how dependent plants are on specific pollinators, in order to preserve and protect plant species,” Epps said.

Dinosaur fossil reveals relative of triceratops

A newly described horned dinosaur with peculiar ornamentation was a close relative of Triceratops, paleontologists have found.

The dinosaur had a longer nose horn than Triceratops, and two small horns above its eyes. But its most distinctive feature was a radiating frill, a set of large, pentagonal plates like a crown atop its head. Researchers at the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology in Canada named their find Regaliceratops peterhewsi.

They first stumbled on the bones sticking out of a cliff along the Oldman River, in southeastern Alberta, about a decade ago. Like other horned dinosaurs, Regaliceratops probably evolved during the late Cretaceous, 65 million to 100 million years ago. Its nearly complete skull is described in the journal Current Biology.

– New York Times