Updated: 3rd January 2024
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.
Pollen is important for bees, as it provides food (especially protein) for developing offspring.
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 managed honey bees).
Some bee species are 'corbiculate', meaning they have pollen baskets or 'corbicula' located on the outside of the hind legs of female bees, and consist of a slightly concave (curved) area surrounded by long hairs.
Probably the most well-known corbiculate bees are bumble bees and honey bees, but this group also includes Euglossini (orchid bees), and Meliponini (stingless bees)1.
When collecting pollen, the pollen is moistened with nectar, and packed into the corbiculae, which act as baskets, trapping and holding the pollen in place.
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.
There will be slight variations in shade, from very pale yellow to darker yellow/orange, depending on the pollen collected.
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.
Leafcutter bees 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.
In other 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.
The hairy bodies of bees are often seen dusted with pollen. In a sense, bees have 'sticky hair' and 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.
1. Corbiculate Bees. / Engel, Michael S.; Rasmussen, Claus. Encyclopedia of Social Insects. ed. / Christopher K. Starr. Cham : Springer, 2020.