How Do Bees Find Pollen?
This one question leads to many other bee-related questions such as:
Why Do Bees Collect Pollen?
What Do Bees Do With Pollen?
First, bees collect pollen to eat, as it is their source for protein. Bee pollen is actually quite high in protein, and ounce per ounce, it has more protein than chicken breast. In the hive, bees will mix the pollen with honey and make what beekeepers call, “Bee Bread.” The nurse bees, the ones that are caring for the developing baby bees, (larvae), will consume the bee bread for the nutrients they need to produce the protein-rich substance they feed to the baby bees.
Honey bee with two bright orange balls of pollen on its legs, surrounded by other bees.
One of the bee’s super powers is its sense of smell. Bees don’t have a nose, instead they use their antennae to smell. It’s quite impressive, as bees can essentially smell in 3D. Imagine standing in your kitchen with your eyes closed and “seeing” it as well as you do with your eyes open. That’s how powerfully bees can smell.
Bees will use their sense of smell to find blooming plants that contain pollen and nectar. Honeybees have hair all over their bodies, and even have tiny hairs on their eyes. Once a bee lands on a flower, like a static charge, the pollen from a flower will jump onto a bee’s fuzzy body. Now covered with tiny pollen particles, a bee will groom itself, using its specialized legs to comb the pollen off of its body. Next, the bee will push all the pollen into saddlebag-like structures on its hind legs, creating two large pollen balls. Once the pollen is secured, the bee will fly back to the hive.
After a foraging bee delivers its payload to waiting bees inside the hive, if the food source where she got it is good, the forager bee will tell her hive mates its location.
And that leads to another question:
How Do Bees Give Directions to Food Sources?
Honeybees communicate in two ways: Smells (Pheromones) and Dances.
Called the waggle dance, a worker bee will do a dance to tell her sisters about the location of a food source and gives directions for how to get there.
It’s interesting to note that the only other species that is capable of giving directions to a food source is humans.
If the food source is less than a football field away, the bee’s dance is in a circle. If it’s further away, even three to five miles away, the dance is in a figure eight. The dance will communicate the quality of the food source and how much food there is to be had. Bees navigate by the position of the sun, and the directions given through the waggle dance is related to the sun’s location in the sky. Inside the hive, for the purpose of the dance, the sun’s position is always represented by straight up, or twelve o’clock. The bees will always do the waggle part of their dance, quickly shaking their body back and forth, in the same direction and at the same angle as the food source is in relation to the sun. If a bee is waggling at 45 degrees facing left, then, outside of the hive, the food source is 45 degrees from the sun, and to the left as you’re leaving the hive. The waggle part functions as if it’s a big neon-flashing arrow pointing in the direction to where the food is located and telling all the other bees to fly in that direction. As the bee does its dance and hits the angle and direction from the sun, it will waggle away. Much of the rest of the dance is a reenactment of the flight. The bees also covey distance by how long the waggle takes. The longer they shake and waggle their bodies, the further away the food is. The more excited the bee, the better the food source. The whole goal of the dance is to get other bees excited about this location so they too will check it out and come back and tell more bees how great it is. Sometimes, more than one scout bee will come back to the hive to tell her hive mates about a food source. In these cases, it’s like a dance-off, where the bees are competing to see who has the best food source. Comparing the dances to one another, the other foraging bees will choose a winner, and that food source will be the one that most of the foragers travel to and stock up on supplies for the hive.
If you’d like to see a Waggle Dance, check out this YouTube Video:
Honeybees are amazing creatures. Their sense of smell and their ability to communicate through dance are just a few of the many wonders that make them so interesting to learn about and why they are one of the most studied animals on the planet.
If you’d like to learn more about fascinating world of honeybees and the people who keep them, check out, Bee People And They Bugs They Love – Available Everywhere Books Are Sold!
Now, are you ready to catch the buzz?