Bees Carrying Pollen

Updated: 1st May 2021


Over the years, I have managed to capture some wonderful pictures of bees carrying pollen.

Whilst some of these pictures already feature elsewhere on my site, I thought it would be nice to put them all on one page, so that you can clearly see bees collecting pollen in different ways, depending on the species.

How is pollen collected by bees?

With all species, pollen is collected on hairs that are specially adapted in some way, so that the bee can carry pollen from flower to flower during the foraging trip, and then finally back to the nest (or hive if a managed honey bee).

Pollen baskets - corbiculae

Social bumble bees and honey bees carry and transport pollen in corbiculae - or pollen baskets - but what and where are they?  They are located on the outside of the hind legs of female bees, and consist of a slightly concave (curved) area surrounded by long hairs. 

The pollen is moistened with nectar, and packed into the corbiculae, which act as baskets, trapping and holding the pollen in place.  


The pollen baskets on this bumble bee as it forages on blue eryngium flower, can be seen on the hind legs, but they are not very full.The pollen baskets on this bumble bee can be seen on the hind legs, but they are not very full.


At the beginning of a foraging trip, the pollen baskets will be empty of pollen, and so will be invisible.  Gradually as the bee continues with its foraging activities, the pollen baskets can be seen.  As the pollen baskets grow increasingly full, they are highly visible.  

This bumble bee's pollen baskets are full and very visible on the hind legs, from foraging on a pink rose with pollen covered anthers.  The pollen is compact and looks like a waxy ballThis bumble bee's pollen baskets are more full, round and visible on the hind legs.


There will be slight variations in shade, from very pale yellow to darker yellow/orange, depending on the pollen collected.



The pollen baskets on this honey bee contain significantly more pollen than is the case above.The pollen baskets on this honey bee contain significantly more pollen than is the case above.


Scopa

Scopa are dense hairs, usually either on the hind legs, or on the underside of the abdomen on some female solitary bee species.

The scopa on the underside of the abdomen (also called a 'pollen brush') is especially visible in some members of the Megachilidae family, such as the leafcutter bees.

On this photograph, you can clearly see the pollen on the underside of the abdomen of this leafcutter bee (a member of the Megachilidae family).On this photograph, you can clearly see the pollen on the underside of the abdomen of this leafcutter bee (a member of the Megachilidae family).


Leafcutter bees sometimes raise their abdomens when foraging, making the pollen brush especially visible, however, it can also be seen even when the bee is in flight - it's simply a matter of looking out for it.

Top view of a leafcutter bee.  The pollen-laden scopa (pollen brush) is nevertheless visible, even from this angle.Top view of a leafcutter bee. The pollen-laden scopa (pollen brush) is nevertheless visible, even from this angle.

In other solitary bee species, scopa may be seen on the hind legs.  

The appearance of the pollen is less compact than is the case with the corbiculae on bumble bees and honey bees.

Grey banded mining bee visiting pink beach aster.  The pollen is very visible on the rear legs, but has a less compact appearance than seen with honey and bumble bees.Grey banded mining bee - Andrena denticulata. Note appearance of pollen on the rear legs.


Painted mining bees - <i>Andrena fucata</i> on a pink wild rose abundant with pollen on the anthers.  When gathered on the scopa on the hind legs, the pollen has a looser, dryer appearance.Painted mining bees - Andrena fucata on wild rose. When carried by bees on the scopa on the hind legs, the pollen has a looser, dryer appearance.

Body hair

The hairy bodies of bees are often seen dusted with pollen.  The pollen caught on the body of the bee as it forages on flowers, may be groomed and collected and transferred to the pollen baskets or scopa.

At the same time, the pollen catching on the hair helps to ensure that bees are highly effective pollinators, as pollen grains are transferred from one flower to the next.

The hairy bodies of bees are often seen dusted with pollen.  This bumble bee foraging on a purple knapweed flower has a dusting of pale pollen particles on its furry body.The hairy bodies of bees are often seen dusted with pollen.


A white tailed bumble bee foraging on a pink holly hock, with lots of pollen particles all over its body.As the bee forages on flowers, pollen grains are transferred from one flower to the next, thus helping to ensure pollination.


Read about this subject why bees need nectar and pollen.





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