Bees as Pollinators

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Image Copyright 2001, David L. Green Unauthorized use prohibited

Coated with Pollen

   This carpenter bee is covered with sticky, pale yellow pollen, as she goes from flower to flower.


   Many people think that the world would be better without bees. But actually life on earth would be much more difficult without bees. If all bees vanished, there would be great famines, and many people would die of starvation. Many fruits and vegetables would be so rare and expensive that few could afford them.

   Grasses and grains, and a few nuts, which are wind pollinated would still be available without bees, but there simply would not be enough food because bees do more pollination than any other kind of pollinator.

   There are thousands of kinds of pollinators - bees, flies, wasps, butterflies and moths, birds, bats, and even a few more exotic ones. All pollinators have their value, but they are not interchangeable, and some are more important than others.

   Many flowers are especially adapted to specific pollinators, and others cannot do the job. When Capri figs were imported to California from the Old World, growers could not get a crop until they came to understand that a special wasp is the only pollinator for that variety. After the capri fig wasps were imported and released, the trees began to bear fruit.

   Some flowers can be pollinated by a wide variety of pollinators. For example, cucumber blossoms can be pollinated by bumblebees, honeybees, and several species of solitary bees, by several kinds of syrphid flies, bombyliid flies, some wasps, butterflies and many other creatures.

   But the pollinators that do the greatest amount of pollination on earth are bees.

   Why are bees so valuable?

1.  They are abundant and widely dispersed over the earth.

2.  They are fuzzy. Pollen is caught in their fuzz. Some bees have a specific fuzzy area of their bodies that matches the shape of the flowers, so that they are very efficient. One bee researcher calls bees "flying Velcro patches."

3.  They carry a static electrical charge. This helps pollen (and other small particles) stick to them.

4.  They deliberately collect pollen. Pollen is a very high-protein food for bees. Plants give up some pollen in exchange for the bees' services in tranferring other pollen from one flower to another.

5.  Some bees tend to stay with a specific kind of flower. For example, a honeybee that visits an apple blossom on its first flight, will usually visit only apple blossoms until there are no more, and she is forced to change to another flower. Other pollinators may visit a dandelion blossom, then go to an apple blossom. Dandelion pollen will not pollinate apple blossoms.

6.  Some bees are very brawny. They muscle their way into the flowers, past the anthers and the sticky stigma, spreading pollen as they do.

Full Pollen Baskets

  This worker honeybee has returned to her hive with pollen, packed into pellets on her legs, and is seeking a honeycomb cell in which to store the pollen.


mvc-042f.jpg (48683 bytes)

Image Copyright 2001, David L. Green Unauthorized use prohibited

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  A frame of stored pollen
There is also a little bit of honey in
the capped cells in the corner of the frame.

Close up of stored pollen
Pollen comes in many colors, most often yellow or orange, but sometimes red, green or even black.

More about Pollen

Glossary of Pollination Terms

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