How Do Bees Collect Pollen?
Different bee species can collect a different amount of pollen in one trip. They also need a different amount of pollen in their hive. To harvest enough protein-rich food for one baby bee, the passionflower bee will make around 35 foraging trips. A spring mining bee will fly out just seven times, though.
The harvesting process starts even before the bees land on the flower. Static electricity plays the main role here. As bees fly, their furry bodies get positively charged. When landing on the flower with a negative charge, the pollen starts to stick to the bees’ hair automatically. It’s as simple as that!
Bees all covered in pollen need to wet the pollen with their juices. Afterward, they push it into the so-called pollen baskets — the corbiculae on their back legs. Some species, like the leafcutter bee, gather pollen on their hairs beneath the abdomen. Once that’s done, they can continue to the next flower or return to their hives. There, they deposit the pollen into the hive cells for the further creation of honey.
Pollen Keeps the Bee Colony Alive
The lifespan of a worker honey bee ranges from a few weeks to up to five months. It depends on whether the bee emerged from the egg in summer or in wintertime. To be able to keep the colony alive, worker bees need to provide enough quality food for new baby bees throughout the year.
That’s why a certain number of bees from each colony collect pollen, no matter the season. But the weather is not always appropriate for this, and most of the plants don’t produce pollen the whole year. The best time for quality pollen collection for honeybees is the fall.
It’s then that the worker bees collect as much pollen as possible to store it inside their hive. The queen bee will be laying eggs in the late winter. The stored pollen will, therefore, enable the nurse bees to feed the young ones and keep them alive until spring.
Where Do Bees Collect Pollen?
Baby bees need to consume enough quality protein to survive. That’s why pollen, as the main protein source, is so important. While some bees harvest pollen from a very wide range of plants, others have a more narrow selection of pollen providers. It’s said that the healthiest bee colonies collect pollen from a variety of plants.
The majority of bee species are polylectic. Those bees depend on the pollen from very different plant types. Honeybees are polylectic and tend to visit various plants and flower colors. They’re also known to collect pollen from plants, which are pollinated by wind. Honeybees are especially attracted to corn.
These bees tend to visit only one plant family or type. Small scissor bees will only collect pollen from bellflower and their relatives, for example.
There aren’t many monolectic bees, but they do exist. A few examples are the hibiscus bee that visits the hibiscus plant, the passionflower bee that harvests from passion flowers, and the small sweat bee that collects from water lilies.
When scientists were researching the bumblebee pollen collection process, they discovered something very interesting. The bees visited a variety of plants. However, the researchers found the whole pollen collection is of very similar protein quality.
This proved the bees have a very delicate way to determine the proportions of amino acids in the pollen — the building blocks of proteins. We can help them with quality pollen collection by growing different plants in our environment throughout the year.
How to Help the Bees With Pollen Collection
To support the bees throughout the year, you can grow plants in your garden that attract bees. This can range from sunflowers and dandelions to bushy lavender or sage, and different fruit or nut trees. A variety of flowers will provide the bees with different types of pollen; therefore, providing the high-quality protein they need for their development and survival.
When winter comes, and you enjoy your cup of tea with honey or even a spoon of pure pollen, be sure to thank the bees for it!