If you’re here, you’re probably doing some school research project or maybe just a curious person wondering what bees do with all that pollen they collect.
In short, bees don’t purposefully collect pollen, it is a consequence of them travelling from one flower to another eating the nectar that the flowers produce. The pollen sticks to the bee’s legs and bodies, allowing the bee to pollinate many flowers while giving them a sweet reward.
Most of us have heard of pollination, and the global environmental issues related to it. It is a well known fact that bees collect pollen and nectar from flowers, but the details of what they use it for and how they collect it are less clear in the everyday person’s mind. If you are interested in bees or pollination, there are many questions about the process that may have crossed your mind.
Do we know what bees do with the pollen that they collect? Where does it go, and what do they use it for? What is pollen, exactly? How does pollination work? Do all bees collect the same type of pollen? How do bees store pollen? How do they eat pollen? Read on to find out the answers to these questions!
What is Pollen?
Pollen, in short, is the method by which plants fertilize each other. It is a powder that appears on the male anthers of flowers and produces male gametes that can fertilize other plants by coming into contact with the female part of the plant. If a pollen granule comes into contact with the female area of a plant, it germinates and creates a tube that helps the sperm of the flower move into the ovule of the flower.
Along with being an important source of food for all pollinators, insects who fly between flowers and transfer the pollen between them, pollen can also be a great source of protein and vitamins for humans. Pollen collected either from bee hives or from the plants themselves is sold in many forms, including capsules and powder.
Nutritional Components of Pollen
- Water (7 percent –16 percent)
- Crude protein (6 percent –30 percent)
- Ether extract (1 percent –14 percent)
- Including reducing sugars (19 percent –41 percent)
- Non-reducing sugars (0 percent –9 percent),
- Starch (0 percent –11 percent)
- Lipids (5 percent)
- Ash (1 percent –6 percent)
- Unknown (22 percent –36 percent)
Pollen is full of proteins that are made up of amino acids that are essential to both human and bee health. This makes it a great supplement to any human diet, especially for people following plant-based diets. However, it is significant to note that some people are allergic to pollen as an airborne particle or when ingested.
What is Pollination?
Pollination is a phenomenon which occurs when pollen from a male flower is transferred to a female flower, fertilizing the female flower. Plants reproduce by making seeds, which requires this fertilization to occur. The part of the plant that contains the pollen is called the anther, while the part that receives it is called the stigma. Anthers are located on the stamen of the flower, while stigmas are located on the pistil of a flower.
Some flowers are self-pollinating, meaning that they include both male and female parts within one flower, and pollen transfers between the two via wind or insects or even automatically. Some flowers are not capable of pollinating themselves and instead have distinct male and female plants or parts that require pollination from an outside source. These plants are called cross-pollinating plants.
Bees are important pollinators of cross-pollinating plants because they fly between many flowers in their efforts to collect pollen, transferring pollen between all the flowers that they visit. Pollination is important because humans rely on plants as a major food source, and if plants are unable to reproduce, new plants are not created. A lack of pollination due to the loss of pollinators would cause widespread collapse of the food production system.
Based on research, high protein pollen helps bee growth, while pollen from some specific flowers may assist bees fight illnesses and increase bee immunity. It is well understood that floral resources from which honey bees acquire their nutrition are vital for the health of honey bees (both independent bees and larvae). Nectar and pollen for overall hive nutrition are essential for honey bee colonies’ existence and growth.
Female bees are often better pollinators than male bees because they are generally larger and have more features dedicated to pollen collection. Because female bees are responsible for feeding the young larvae, they are designed to carry large amounts of pollen on their bodies. In most species, females have much longer hairs all over their bodies to carry the pollen. They also sometimes have pollen baskets, areas where they collect large amounts of pollen, mainly on their hind legs. Males, on the other hand, simply feed on nectar to survive and are not intended to carry pollen back to larvae. This means that they are typically less effective pollinators than females.
Bees pollinate both decorative flowers and the flowers of plants that are major human food sources. Plants like raspberries, blueberries, and fruit trees are often pollinated by bees. Imagine living without oranges or apples! Bees are a major reason that we are able to have foods such as these, which makes pollination essential to our survival and enjoyment of life.
Why Do Bees Collect Pollen?
Bees do not intentionally pollinate flowers. Instead, pollination is a side effect of the bees’ foraging activities, as they fly around in search of food sources. Flowers have evolved to attract bees with nectar and pollen so that they will carry pollen from flower to flower. And bees have evolved to be able to carry large amounts of pollen on their bodies in order to bring food back to their nests.
Bees rely on pollen as one of their primary food sources, with adult bees collecting the pollen and feeding on it, as well as bringing it back to their larvae to feed them. Pollen is an essential source of protein for bees, and it also contains other important vitamins that bees need to survive. Similar to humans, bees have complex nutritional needs, and pollen contains almost all of the nutrients that they need to survive.
Bees collect pollen not only for their own individual survival, but also for the survival of the entire species. Because bees require large amounts of protein to develop, pollen is an essential food for bee eggs and larvae. Female worker bees of most species collect the pollen to bring it back to the nest, feeding the larvae and eggs with it until they are full-grown. Without pollen, bee species would quickly die off.
How Do Bees Collect Pollen?
Bees can perform both passive and active collection of pollen.
Passive collection occurs when pollen accidentally sticks to the hairs all over the bee’s body, and active collection occurs when female bees gather pollen from flowers on purpose. Different species of bees have different methods of active collection, including using their legs to probe out the pollen or rubbing their bodies across the surface of a flower.
Some bees are buzz pollinators, meaning that they move their wings to create vibrations that shake the pollen out of flowers. Some use their tongues or legs to extract pollen from flowers.
Bees generate a positive static-electric charge on their bodies as they fly through the air. This allows them to gather pollen dust from the flowers they encounter because negatively charged pollen is attracted to the bee’s body in the same manner that a balloon pushed against a wool sweater sticks to the wall. The bees will cleanse themselves and “comb” all the pollen off their body using rigid hair-like structures on their legs once their surface has been coated with a sufficient quantity of pollen grains.
Most species of bee carry pollen everywhere they go on the hairs all over their bodies. The longer the hairs are, the more pollen the bee can collect. Additionally, many female bees have pollen baskets on their hind legs where they can collect extra pollen. Because female bees are tasked with feeding the bee larvae and males are not, males typically do not have these pollen collecting features as they simply feed themselves with nectar.
Once the bees bring the pollen back to their nest or hive, they preserve it using enzymes that prevent it from going bad. Often, bees take the pollen that they’ve collected and insert it into wax-lined cells in their nests or hives. Then, they lay eggs on the pollen so that the eggs have a source of food as they grow. They may feed their larvae with pollen as they grow, or simply lay their eggs on a small pile of pollen intended to feed the larvae until they are full-grown.
Where Do Bees Store Pollen?
When female or queen bees are laying eggs, they create brood cells in which to lay those eggs. Along with the brood cells, most bees also create honeycombs where they store honey and mixtures of nectar and pollen that they use to feed larval bees. They secrete waxy substances from their bodies to use as a waterproof structure in which to store food and protect young bees.
Some species of bees overwinter in their nests, in which case their nectar and pollen stores are incredibly important sources of food during the winter. These bees typically preserve their nectar and pollen stores with enzymes secreted from their glands so that they will last all the way through winter.
What Types of Pollen Do Bees Collect?
Not all pollen is created equal. Some pollen contains more protein and vitamins than other pollen, but bees do not choose pollen based on this. Instead, they examine the smell and organization of the pollen to determine whether they want to collect it or not.
Some species of bees are very picky about what flowers they will collect pollen from, which makes them specialists. Some species of bee are generalists, meaning that they select pollen from a wide variety of flowers. There are some species of bees that only visit one specific species of flower, and these are the most vulnerable species of bees. Because they rely on just one type of plant for all the food sources, if that plant becomes unavailable to them, they will die off quickly.
How Do Bees Eat Pollen?
Both adult bees and bees in their larval stages eat pollen to increase their protein intake. The adult female worker bees are responsible for gathering the pollen from nearby flowers, which they both eat to sustain themselves and bring back to feed the larvae. Some species of bees mix pollen and nectar together to create “bee bread,” a sort of paste that the larvae can feed on.
Most species of bees make tiny balls of pollen that they lay their eggs on. The eggs develop into their larval stage and feed on the pollen as they grow. Some species of bees feed the larvae as they grow continually, and some simply supply the initial ball of pollen to feed them throughout their development.
What Else Do Bees Eat?
In addition to pollen, bees also eat nectar that they process into honey. Honey is an important source of carbohydrates for bees, and it also includes minerals like potassium and calcium that are also essential for the health of bees.
Both male and female bees feed on nectar. In the case of social bees, where there is a queen bee, she also eats nectar in addition to pollen. However, larvae are almost always fed solely on pollen or royal jelly.
Royal jelly is a substance that female worker bees secrete from their glands to feed the larvae of the hive. Royal jelly is a highly prized substance used for medicinal purposes around the world because of its high nutritional content.
How Do Bees Make Honey?
Bees do not use pollen to make honey. Pollen is simply one food source for bees, and it is not involved in honey production. Honey is produced when bees mix nectar with enzymes to create a thick, sweet substance that the bees can feed on.
Bees collect nectar from flowers using their tongues and store it in special sacs in their abdomens. Then, they bring the nectar back to their hives or nests. After they evaporate the nectar into a thicker substance, they store it in their honeycombs.
Only social bees make honey. Social bees are those that nest communally in a single hive or nest. Solitary bees live in individual nests where they do not make honey. However, solitary bees do still eat pollen, both as adults and as larvae.
Bees collect pollen primarily for food, accidentally pollinating flowers along their journey. Both adult bees and bee larvae feed on pollen, but they also eat nectar and the honey that they make from nectar. Bees collect pollen by a variety of methods, including especially the long hair on their bodies that picks up the granules and allows them to be transported from flower to flower and back to the hive. Some bees are picky about what pollen they collect, whereas others will collect pollen from any plant.
Bees eat pollen both as adults and as larvae. The adults collect the pollen, while the larvae simply focus on growing into big and strong adult bees. Bees also eat nectar, which they turn into honey by a process of evaporation.
Bees are important pollinators of human food sources and must be protected at all costs. Without them, the global food chain would collapse quickly.