2019-08-06T00:00:00Z (GMT) by
Pollination biology of the wild relatives of cultivated tomatoes (an eminently important group) is largely unstudied in their native habitats. In the course of my thesis research, our expedition documented floral visitors of a wild species of Chilean tomato, Solanum chilense. These plants are found growing in deep canyons around the Andean foothills at the margins of the hyper-arid Atacama desert. The principal pollinators are females of a solitary bee species, Centris buchholtzi. The bees have specialized structures--which closely resemble pantaloons--for carrying tomato pollen used in provisioning their brood. The structures, termed "scopae," are clearly displayed here in the act of grooming. This is one of few successful photographs, among hundreds taken in burst mode with manual focusing, highlighting the difficulties of working with fast-flying insects under natural conditions. This image was captured 25 km east of San Pedro de Atacama, Chile, near the Bolivia-Argentina-Chile tri-border.