Posts Tagged ‘buzz pollination’

Importance of bumble bees

August 20, 2011

Bumble bee on butterfly weed

Bumble bees are excellent pollinators and they are used in agriculture. In some cases they are more efficient than honey bees, the jack of all trades of the pollinators’ world. They are particularly important when the flowers require buzz pollination, a task that honey bees never mastered. Such behavior is described and illustrated here: Bumble bees as pollinators.

Tomato growers, especially those who grow tomatoes in large greenhouses, use the services of bumble bees. Bumble bee colonies are relatively easy to raise and to maintain; thus a whole minor industry has developed. Several bumble bee breeders provide queens and special boxes where the queen can raise a whole colony, along with instructions on how many boxes are needed per acre of plants and how much sugary water should be added to their diet. Tomatoes are good at supplying pollen but not nectar and bumble bees, like all other bees, require both.

Confusing bumble bee

Confusing bumble bee

There is great concern about the possibility of carrying pathogens when these boxes are shipped to other places. Also there is the possibility of honey bees passing their pathogens to bumble bees. It is important to take precautions to avoid such consequences.

In addition to being important in agriculture bumble bees, along with many other species of bees, pollinate a large number of native flowers and thus contribute to the normal functioning of ecosystems.

Common eastern bumble bee

Common eastern bumble bee

Bumble bees. Introduction

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors


Bumble bees as pollinators

July 6, 2011


Impatient bumble bee and impatiens. It fits like a glove

Bumble bees collect nectar and pollen to feed the babies and that is how they pollinate many flowers. Some are generalists that visit many different kinds of flowers while others are more specialized. The species with longer tongues show a preference for flowers with deeper throats although they can also reach the nectar of flatter flowers. Those with shorter tongues are more limited in their choices. Body size also matters; larger bumble bees may keep the smaller ones from visiting favorite flowers.
buzz pollination

Turtlehead. In and out with great skill

Because of their wide geographic distribution and long season (from spring to fall), they are pollinators of a wide array of wild flowers, as well as some important crops such as tomatoes, eggplants, alfalfa and clover.

One interesting feature of bumble bee pollination is that they can practice the so called buzz pollination, a deed that honey bees never mastered. Some flowers don’t have ready available pollen; instead they keep it inside the anthers. Only a pore at the tip of the anther allows the pollen to escape. For that it is necessary to shake the anther, just like a saltshaker. Bumble bees and a number of native bees are pros at this shaking. They use their flight muscles to cause a vibration, easily heard if you are near. Plants in the tomato family, such as tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and members of the Ericaceae family, such as azaleas and rhododendrons, blueberries, cranberries and a few other berries, require this form of pollination.

Buzz pollination of azaleas. Notice the buzzing sound

Bumble bees. Introduction

Buzz pollination of Senna

Beginners Guide to Pollinators and Other Flower Visitors