Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pollinators - Bugs

Ever been driven mad by midges? Ever gone nuts because of gnats? (Think back to the 2nd game of the 2007 American League Division Series when the Yankees got swarmed by bugs and you'll know what I'm talking about.) Bugs, especially those small little no-see-ums that invade every campsite I've ever stayed in, can really make you crazy. It's not always the buzzing or the biting that gets me. It's the way they dive bomb my eyes, my nose, my mouth, my ears, seeking any moisture they can find. At times like that I want the largest can of Deep Woods Off I can find. But if there were no bugs, there'd be no chocolate.

That's right. It's true. A wee little midge is responsible for all of the chocolate in the world. The lovely tropical tree, Theobroma cocoa (which means "food of the gods") produces complex, nickel-sized white flowers that bloom at night. Once in bloom, the flower has a mere 48 hours in which to be pollinated. This is where the midge comes in. Although the flowers possess both male and female parts, they do not self-pollinate and rely on the determined visit of the midge to accomplish the task. Even so, only about 5 of every 100 flowers will be pollinated at the correct time and become cocoa pods.

Cocoa trees thrive in the damp and shade of the tropical rainforest where they can tap into the nutrient-rich soil and are protected from strong winds by larger trees. The midges that pollinate the cocoa trees also thrive there, enjoying the damp and the decaying plant and animal life. It seems counter-productive that cocoa harvesters have been creating vast, cultivated, open-air cocoa tree plantations. To do this, they chop down the shade trees and clear the decaying plants and basically give the pollinating midge no habitat. Is it any surprise that instead of 5 in every 100 flowers becoming cocoa pods, as happens in the forest, the plantation's trees fall far short? Only 3 in every 1,000 blossoms will create cocoa pods, and that means less chocolate.

So, before you swat your next fly, remember your last bite of chocolate cake, or your last bite of Hershey's Special Dark, or your last bite of dusted truffle. Without the bugs, it could be your last bite.

Thank you to Kurt Stueber for the photo.

No comments: