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.
The fact that pollen is picked up by bees on their furry coats, means that the pollen can then be 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.
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.
The bee thus becomes 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.
These tufts of stiff hair are called scopa, but on the back legs, they are sometimes referred to as pollen baskets or 'corbiculae' on bumble bees and honey bees (‘corbicula’ if singular). 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.
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.
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 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).