How Do Bees Collect Pollen?

The method by which bees collect pollen depends on the species. 

Some bees collect pollen on their hairy bodies, then carry it back to their nests on their hind legs, whilst others carry pollen on the hairs on their abdomen, or in their crop. 

How do bees collect pollen and transfer pollen to the nest?

The fact that pollen is picked up by bees on their furry coats, means that in the process, pollen is transferred between plants, thus aiding the pollination process.

However, below is a little more detail about how bees collect pollen, then transfer it to their nests.

Pollen collection on 'scopa' or 'corbiculae' the hind legs

This painted mining bee has gathered quite a lot of pollen on the specially adapted hairs of its hind legs.  It is a brown bee and is foraging on a pale pink rose flower.This solitary bee species has gathered quite a lot of pollen on the specially adapted hairs of its hind legs.

Some bees transport pollen on their hind legs.

First, the pollen sticks the furry body of the bee: as the bee flies through the air, its body becomes positively charged with static electricity. 

This means that when the bee lands on a flower (thus knocking the pollen from the delicate anthers), some of the pollen particles stick to the static-charged hair covering the bee's body.

Wild roses provide lots of pollen for bees - including bumble bees.  Here a bumble bee is collecting pollen in waxy compact ball-shaped clumps on its legs.Wild roses provide lots of pollen for bees - including bumble bees.

The bee is thus covered in pollen, and then uses its legs to wipe the pollen from its body down to stiff hairs on the abdomen or back legs. 

In some bees the tufts of stiff hair on the back legs are called scopa.

Other bees (such as bumble bees and honey bees) have pollen baskets or 'corbiculae' (‘corbicula’ if singular), which are specially adapted, curled hairs. 

Once the bee returns to its hive or nest, the pollen is stored to be eaten by developing larvae.

Note that bumble bee queens and workers collect pollen and transfer it to the nests, however, males and cuckoo bumble bee species do not collect pollen, and have no pollen baskets. 

Honey bee queens do not collect pollen, and only leave the colony to mate or establish a new colony. 

Foraging for food is a role undertaken specifically by honey bee workers.

A Honey bee worker with waxy pollen  compacted in the pollen baskets on hind the legs.Honey bee worker with full pollen baskets on hind legs.

Pollen collection on the abdomen and in the crop

Leafcutter bee collecting pale pollen on a pollen brush on the underside of the abdomen, from the anthers of lilac-blue campanula flowers.Leafcutter bee collecting pollen on a pollen brush on the underside of the abdomen.

Megachilids, such as this leafcutter bee, collect pollen on a pollen brush beneath the abdomen.

Hylaeus collect pollen in their crops, whilst Andrena and Colletes species additionally use the sides of the propodeum to collect pollen, which is located at the rear section of the thorax at the base of the abdomen.

How much pollen do bees collect?

Bee species differ in the amount of pollen they are able to collect and carry in one foraging trip (which may require visits to multiple flowers), and also the amount of pollen needed to provision a nest cell varies between species.

For example, the bee Anthemurgus passiflorae must typically take 35 foraging trips to gather enough pollen for one egg, whilst Colletes cunicularis needs just 7 trips. 

Also, some very small bees can carry more than their weight in pollen! (Source: Wilson & Messinger Carril).

Will bees collect pollen from any flower?

Honey foraging on a small white bryony flower.Honey foraging on white bryony.

Some bee species will collect pollen and nectar from a range of plants, whilst others are specialists, and thus rely on a narrower range of plants for food. 

Bees can be described as:

This means pollen may be collected from a wide variety of flowers from different plant types, and from a range of flower colours. 

Honey bees are polylectic.

This is when pollen is collected from a narrower flower range, perhaps within a single or within very restricted plant types and families. 

For example, Chelostoma campanularum (Small Scissor Bee) will only forage from bell flowers and close relatives of the Harebell and Bellflower. (Source: Steven Falk - Guide to Bees Of Great Britain And Ireland

Where pollen is collected from a single plant species – although a species considered monolectic in one country may be oligolectic in another, depending on availability of appropriate forage plants!

Bee-Themed Car Stickers And More

Save the bees plant flowers car bumper sticker
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Do bees sleep?
Apparently they do, but how do we know?

Sleeping honey bees, links to the page 'Do bees sleep?'