The Lovely Language of (InsectFlower) Love:

(This page is a constant work in progress and defines words I have already used in blog posts or other wondrous pollination-related words that I’ll soon find an excuse to use.)

(Note: In order to reduce the time required to compile this list and enable me to make it more thorough, I have not included citations for these definitions.  Info was compiled from various textbooks, journal articles, and online sources. Most definitions result from a blend of sources and are described in my own words, but some are copied from sources where they stated it most succinctly already.  A bee vocabulary list from the San Fransisco State University website is represented particularly heavily here.  Words in boldface are defined elsewhere in the list.)
Orange Terms relating specifically to bees
Red Terms relating to insects in general
Magenta Terms relating to non-insect pollinators (birds, bats, etc)
Light Green Terms relating to flowering plants
 Purple Terms relating to pollination concepts
 Dark Green Terms relating to habitat types
 Blue Terms relating to ecology/biology concepts
Gray Terms relating to laboratory/taxonomical work
 Yellow Just really super cool science words


Actinomorphic: Term for a flower that has petals that are all essentially identical in size and shape, often with radial symmetry, such as a Geranium.  One would think sunflowers would also be in this category, but they are part of the tricky Asteraceae plant family and are actually technically compound flowers composed of many ray florets, which are actually individual flowers instead of petals.

Androecious: Type of unisexual flower with only stamens (male reproductive parts).

Androecium: Collective term for all stamens in a flower

Angiosperm: Term for flowering plants, the most diverse group of land plants.  Evolved from Gymnosperms, which also produce seeds (as in a pine cone) but do not produce flowers or fruits.  Pollinator preference behavior has played a huge role in the evolution and diversification of this group—hooray for everyone!

Angulate: forming an angle rather than a curve

Anterior: Toward the head or on the head side of a segment being described

Apex: end of any structure

Apical: near or at the apex or end of any structure

Apiology/Apiologist: The scientific study of honey bees/scientists who study honey bees.

Appressed: tight and flat against the body of the bee, usually used to describe hair

Arcuate: curved like a bow

Areolate: integumental (skin) sculpture pattern: divided into a number of small irregular spaces, very similar if not used interchangeably with reticulate

Arolia: the pad between the claws found at the ends of some bees legs

Bands: Usually referring to bands of hair or bands of color that traverse across an abdominal segment from side to side

Basad (Basally): toward the base

Base (Basal Area): on whatever part being described, this would be the section or the area at or near to the point of attachment, or nearest the main body of the bee, the opposite end of which would be the apical area

Basitarsus: the segment of the tarsus that is the nearest to the bee’s body; usually the largest of all the tarsal segments

Basitibial plate: a small plate or saclike projection at the base of the hind tibia (like a bee knee pad)– The Bee’s Knees!!

Bee’s Knees: see basitibial plate

Bifid: cleft or divided into 2 parts; forked

Brevistylous: (see “heterostyly”)

Calyx: Collective term form the whorl of sepals on a flower.

Carina: a clearly defined ridge or keel, not necessarily high or acute, usually appears on bees as simply a raised line

Carinate: keeled; having keels or carinae

Carpel: The ovule and seed producing (female) reproductive organ in flowering plants.

Caudad: towards the tail, or on the tail side of a segment being described

Cheeks: the lateral part of the head beyond the compound eyes, includes the gena and the subgena

Clypeus: A section of the face below the antennae, demarcated by the epistomal sutures

Congeneric: Belonging to the same genus.

Conically: cone shaped, with a flat base, tapering to a what is usually a blunt or rounded top

Conspecific: Belonging to the same species.

Convex: the outer curved surface of a segment of a sphere, as opposed to concave

Corolla: Collective term for the petals of a flower, which are arranged with either radial or bilateral symmetry; the structure that has changed over time in response to pollinator behaviors to yield astonishing morphological variety in color, shape, etc.  The lovely, visual proof of angiosperm-pollinator co-evolution and strong mutualism!

Costa: a wing vein

Coxae: the basal segment of the leg

Crepuscular: Describes behavior of animals that are active during dawn and dusk instead of during the middle of the day or being nocturnal.  Not very common in bees, but one of my favorite words!

Cubital: a wing vein

Denticle: a small tooth-like projection

Dichogamy:  The botanical term for “sequential hermaphroditism,” or the ability of one individual to change from male to female (protandry) or from female to male (protogyny) in order to maximize its reproductive potential and reduce inbreeding by preventing a plant capable of producing both sex gametes from fertilizing itself by delaying the production of one or the other.

Dioecious: In certain angiosperm plants that have unisexual flowers containing only either carpels or stamens (relatively uncommon), the type of plant in which the male and female flowers are found on separate individual plants. (As opposed to monoecious plants).

Disc: a generic term for the middle surface of a plate (usually in reference to an abdominal segment) as apposed to what might be going on along the sides

Distal: away from the body or a description of a place on a segment that is furthest from the place of attachment with the body of the bee

Distylous: (see “heterostyly”)

Dorsum: in general, the upper surface

Echinate: thickly set with short, stout spines or prickles

Emarginate: a notched or cut out place in an edge or margin, can be dramatic or simply a subtle inward departure from the general curve or line of the margin or structure being described

Entomology/Entomologist: The scientific study of insects/scientists who study insects.  Not to be confused with “Etymology,” which is the study of the history and origin of words…ew.

Fasciae: a transverse band or broad line, in bees often created by a band of light colored hairs on the abdomen

Ferruginous: rusty, red – brown, orange-brown

Flagellum: the third and remaining part of the antenna beyond the pedicel and scape, containing most of the antennal segments

Fore: usually refers to the first pair of legs, the ones closest to the head

Foveae: a depressed region of cuticle, in bees this depressed area is usually only very slightly hollow and usually on the face

Fulvous: a brownish yellow-tawny color to orange brown

Fuscous: dark brown, approaching black; a plain mixture of brown and red

Glabrous: a surface without any hairs

Glossa: part of the tongue

Gradulus: a line that runs from side to side on abdominal segments of some bees that is formed by the step between two regions that differ in height, often that difference is only apparent upon very close inspection

Gynoecious: Type of unisexual flower with only carpels (female reproductive parts).

Gynoecium: Collective term for all carpels in a flower.

Herkogamy:  As opposed to dichogamy, in which a plant reduces the chances of inbreeding by producing the male and female reproductive parts at different times, herkogamous plants reduce inbreeding by spatially separating their concurrent male and female organs so that pollinators usually encounter just one or the other in a single visit.

Heterostyly: reproductive strategy of certain plants in which there are several flower varieties, each differing in the relative length of the pistils and stamens, so that the flowers are

  • Distylous: plants with two flower morphs. Pistil length on one morph equals stamen length on the other morph and vice versa.
  • Tristylous: plants with three flower morphs. In each morph there are two lengths of stamens and one length of pistil ranging from relatively short, intermediate, or long for each to combine to make the three morph varieties.
  • Thrum or Brevistylous: short-styled flower; stamens are long and pistils are short
  • Pin or Longuistylous: long-styled flower; stamens are short and pistils are long

Hyaline: transparent, glassy

Hypoepimeral: area on the thorax

Hypostoma: the notched region underneath the head and behind the mandible that holds the folded tongue

Impressed Area: almost always refers to the rear part of the upper abdominal segments, these areas often being very slightly (often very difficult to detect) lower than the front part of the segment

Impunctate: not punctate or marked with punctures or pits

Infuscated: smoky gray-brown, with a blackish tinge

Integum: the outer layer of the bee; the skin or cuticle

Intercubital: a wing vein
Interstitial: when describing veins it refers to the end of one approximating the beginning of another, as in a grid intersection
Labrum: abutting the clypeus in front of the month

Longuistylous: (see “heterostyly”)

Macula: a spot or mark
Maculations: spotted or made up of several marks
Malar space: the shortest distance between the base of the mandible and the margin of the compound eye often completely absent in bees
Mandibles: bee teeth, so to speak, usually crossed and folded in front of the mouth
Marginal cell: a wing cell located on the edge (margin) of the wing

Matinal (Matutinal in non-entomology context): Term referring to the behavior of some organisms to be primarily active in the pre-dawn or very early hours of the day.  Some bees do this presumable to encounter less competition for floral resources, especially with flowers such as morning glorys that open early.

Melittology/Melittologist: The scientific study of all bees/scientists who study bees!

Mesally (Medially): pertaining to, situated on, in or along the middle of the body or segment
Mesopleura: or mesothorax, the second or middle segment of the thorax bearing the middle legs and the forewings
Metapleura: thorax segment bearing the hind legs and hind wings

Monoecious: In certain angiosperm plants that have unisexual flowers containing only either carpels or stamens (relatively uncommon), the type of plant in which the male and female flowers are found on the same plant. (As opposed to dioecious plants).

Notaulices: a pair of lines on some bees that appear on either side of the scutum near the base of the wings

Ocelli: the 3 simple eyes or lenses that sit at the top of the head of bees
Ochraceous: pale yellow

Ovule: A complex structure of female floral anatomy.  It is essentially the reproductive egg and is born inside ovaries of carpels in angiosperms by various stages of meiosis before and after fertilization of the flower by a pollen granule.

Palynology: The scientific study of pollen.  Really cool images of pollen can be generated using a Scanning Electron Microscope, but you better have a steady hand and a discerning eye!

Papillae (Papilate): very tiny short hard cone-like projections usually in bees only found on the wing or legs and often having small hairs arising from the top
Pectinate: comb-like, having large comb-like teeth that are clearly separate from one another

Perianth: Collective term for the petals and sepals of a flower.

Petal: Part of the anatomy of a flower that has evolved over time to be brightly colored or shaped in a particular way to attract pollinators.  Actually modified leaves.  Huge, amazing morphological variety among the angiosperms.  Collectively, the petals are termed the corolla.
Petiolate: having a stalk

Phenotype:  The observable (usually visible) characteristics of an organism that reveal the subset of the traits encoded by its genotype that it is currently expressing, combined with the influence of its environment.  Basically, this term refers to how the organism looks and is used to compare different observable expressions of possible genetic traits of a related group of organisms.  Phenotypic variation is always involved in speciation and evolution by natural selection (usually a result of differential responses to an environmental change).

Pin: (see “heterostyly”)

Piceous: glossy brownish black in color, pitch like

Pistil: A structure in the female floral reproductive anatomy that is composed of either one carpel (simple pistil) or several fused carpels (compound pistil) and takes different forms in different plants.

Pleura: the lateral or side areas of the thorax, excluding the lateral surfaces of the propodeum
Plumose: feather-like

 Pollen: the fine grain produced by a seed plant that contains the male haploid gametes or microgametophytes (sperm) to be transferred to the female reproductive parts of another plant of the same species (or sometimes a different flower on the same plant).  Pollen is protected in its journey via pollinator by a hard shell that, once the pollen has made contact with the female gametophyte, breaks down so that a pollen tube can grow through the ovary tissue to deliver the sperm directly to the plant ovule.  The study of pollen is a painful process (but cool too if you have a Scanning Electron Microscope) and is called palynology.

Pollex: a thumb; the stout fixed spur at the inside of the tip of the tibia

Polymorphism: Having multiple phenotypes within a population (same species, so similar genotypes that can produce different phenotypes based on genetic expression and environmental influences (e.g. puppies from the same litter can have very different markings and colorations or butterflies that exist in more polluted areas can be darker than those in cleaner areas (which is polymorphism before they actually speciate))).

Posterior: toward the tail end or on the tail end of a segment being described
Preapical: referring to a section of a bee that is physically found just before the outermost (or apical) end of the section or segment
Pronotum: a collar-like segment on the thorax and directly behind the head; extends down the sides of the thorax toward the first pair of legs
Propodeum: the last segment of a bees thorax (although you wouldn’t know to look at it, it is considered anatomically part of the abdomen)
Prothoracic: of or pertaining to the prothorax
Protuberant: rising or produced above the surface or the general level, often used as a term to define a single or pair of small bumps
Proximal: that part nearest the body
Pubescent: downy; clothed with soft, short, fine, loosely set hair
Pygidial plate: unusually flat area (a plate) surrounded by a ridge or line and sometimes sticking well off of the end of the bee. If present, found on the sixth upper abdominal segment in females, seventh in males
Repose: in a retracted physical state
Reflexed: bent up or away

Reticulate: made up of a network of lines that creates a set of netlike cells, similar to areolate except perhaps more of a regular network of cells….undoubtedly both have been used to describe the same patterns at times
Rugose: a wrinkled set of bumps that are rough and raised

Scape: the first or basal segment of the antenna
Scopa: a brush; a fringe of long dense and sometimes modified hairs designed to hold pollen
Scutellum: shield shaped plate behind scutum
Scutum: the large segment on top of the thorax located between the wings and behind the head

Self-incompatibility in plants: Angiosperms have developed several cool methods for preventing inbreeding and encouraging outcrossing of their reproductive gametes between individual plants.  SI plants can actually detect too much similarity to itself in the genetic makeup of a pollen grain when it reaches its stigma and can take a variety of measures to halt the fertilization process until a pollen grain of suitable genetic variation comes along.  So if a lazy honeybee fails to deliver a pollen grain far enough from where it was collected, the plant has a backup method to prevent wasting its resources on an inbred seed.  Genetic variability has been proven to enhance survivorship and provide resilience against environmental and other changes, and this ability of SI plants is part of what has made angiosperms so successful and diverse across the globe.

Sepal: Part of angiosperm floral anatomy.  The outermost whorl of parts that form a flower, commonly green and underneath the petals at the top of the stem.  Collectively called the calyx.

Serrate: notched on the edge, like a serrated knife
Setose: covered with setae or stiff short hairs
Sinuate: the margin with wavy and strong indentations
Spatulate: shaped like a spatula
Spicule: small needlelike spine
Spinose: armed with thorny spines, more elongate than echinate

Stamen: the pollen-producing (male) reproductive organ of a flower.  Typically consists of a stalk called the filament, ending in an anther, which contains and presents the pollen to the various vehicles of pollination (insects, wind, etc).  Collectively, the stamens in a flower are called the androecium.

Sterna: the plates on the underside of the abdomen
Stigma: a thickened colored spot or cell in the forewing just behind the costal cell

Stigma: Female part of a flower that receives the pollen and is usually sticky or feathery for this purpose.  It is usually found at the tip of the style, the portion of the carpel that receives pollen.  It is commonly sticky or feathery to capture pollen.

Striae: a set of parallel lines (usually raised) and can be thick or thin

Style: In a flower, a pillar-like stalk of the carpel through which pollen tubes grow to reach the ovary during fertilization.

Subapical: located just behind the apex of the segment or body part
Subcontiguous: not quite contiguous or touching
Subequal: similar but not necessarily exactly equal in size, form, or length
Submarginal cells: one or more cells of the wing lying immediately behind the marginal cells
Subrugose: a bit bumpy but not forming an extensive set of wrinkled bumps
Sulcus: groove; more of an elongate hole or puncture in the skin of the bee
Supra: above, beyond or over
Supraclypeal area: the region of the head between the antennal sockets and clypeus, demarcated on the sides by the subantennal sutures
Suture: a groove marking the line of fusion of two distinct plates on the body or face of a bee
Tarsus: the leg segments at the end of the bees leg, attached to the tibia
Tegulae: the usually oval, small shield like structure carried at the extreme base of the wing where it attaches to the body
Tergum: the segments on the top side of the abdomen
Tessellate: small very fine lines that make up a network of squares like a chessboard on the surface of the skin. Can often be very faint markings that appear like fingerprints on the shiny surface of the skin.
Testaceous: brownish-yellow

Thrum: (see “heterostyly”)

Tibia: segment of the leg, between the femur and the tarsus
Tomentum: a form of pubescence composed of short matted, woolly hair
Tomentose: covered with tomentum
Transverse: across the width of the body or segment rather than the length, in other words at right angles to the head to abdomen axis of the body

Tristylous: (see “heterostyly”)

Trochanters: segment of the insect leg between the coxa and the femur
Truncate: cut off squarely at tip
Tubercle: a small knoblike or rounded protuberance
Undulate: wavy
Venter: the undersurface of a section of a bee or bee part, usually the abdomen
Ventral: pertaining the undersurface of the abdomen
Vertex: the top of the head

Vespertine: Term referring to the behavior of some organisms to become active at dusk or in the evening hours of the day, such as flowers that open at dusk or bats that emerge to hunt in the evening (not quite the same as being nocturnal).  I love this word!

Violaceous: violet colored

Zygomorphic:Cool term for a flower that is symmetrical in only one plane (bilateral symmetry).  The petal arrangement is usually the most obvious sign of this.  Orchids and pea flowers are examples.  You would probably not, for example, play “he loves me, he loves me not” with a zygomorphic flower.

One Response to Pollinixtionary!

  1. Pingback: Pollination is Not your Pacific Island Vacation Destination (unless you happen to own a Magic Schoolbus) | Six Legs, One Corolla: Meditations on Pollination

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