Updated: 24th February 2021
You will probably have noticed that bees have furry bodies, but have you noticed that bees also have hairs on their legs...and even on their eyes and tongue? So why do bees have hair? It actually serves a number of purposes.
The short answer:
The furry bodies, legs and even the eyes, provide an efficient means to collect pollen which sticks to the individual hairs. Hair also aids with temperature regulation and also helps the bee detect vibrations from the atmosphere. Hairs on the tongue aid feeding.
1. An Efficient Way To Collect And Carry Pollen
As bees visit flowers, they collect fine pollen grains on the many hairs on their bodies. The fact that the pollen automatically catches on the individual hairs when the bees visit flowers means that the process is efficient. In other words, pollen is caught on the hairs by default (although for some flowers that cling on to their pollen, some bees may buzz pollinate - a method of shaking and vibrating the anthers until the pollen comes loose). Look very closely at the photograph at the top of the page, and you'll see a fine, pale dusting of pollen on the bumble bee's furry coat.
Similarly scientists studying honey bees have found that even the eyes carry pollen on fine hairs. Look closely at the picture of the honey bee directly above, and indeed the head is covered in hairs.
In cool weather, the hairs on a bee's body help to keep it warm, because the fine hairs trap the heat. With honey bees that huddle together in a nest or hive over winter, this effect is magnified by the fact that there are lots of bees together, all with hairy bodies. You can read more about this on the page Where Do Bees Go In Winter?
The tongues of bees feature hairs that aid in the lapping up of nectar when foraging on flowers. In some writings, it is also suggested that the hairs on the tongues of some bees may help the bee's tongue to form a tube or straw shape for sucking up nectar. (1)
4. Picking Up Vibrations
The fine hairs on the bodies of bees help them to pick up vibrations from the atmosphere, and indeed actual touch. This can help them with alarm responses.
Here are just a few examples:
Some bees, known as 'oil collecting bees', such as Macropis, actually use specially adapted hairs on their front legs to collect oils from flowers. Together, the hairs form a spatula shape, specially designed for the purpose.
Bees such as bumble bees and honey bees collect pollen on their hairy bodies, then transfer it to specially adapted hairs on their back legs called corbiculae - otherwise known as pollen baskets. In this way, the bees can easily transport the pollen back to the nest following foraging trips. The pollen baskets are tufts of stiff, curled hairs that are well equipped to carry a mixture of pollen moistened with nectar. Read more about How Bees Collect Pollen.
Bellow is a bumble bee with pollen baskets full of pollen.
Some bees carry pollen on specially adapted hairs on the abdomen, called scopa. Below you can see a leafcutter bee approaching campanula flowers with scopa full of pale, creamy pollen. Read more, and watch some videos about amazing leafcutter bees.
Scopa can also appear on the legs as seen in the picture below. These hairs are ideal for collecting dry pollen.
(1) The Tongue Of The Honey Bee page 274 b Prof. A. J. Cook; found by copying and pasting the link below into your browser: https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/
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