Pollination is a process that is not only done by the bees but, by other insects and birds, as well.
Well, in this article we will only discuss the topic related to bees and will answer the query “Why do bees pollinate?“
So, what actually is pollination?
Pollination is the process that is done by bees to transfer the pollen grains from the male anther to the female stigma of a flower. Due to pollination, the egg of the flower is fertilized leading to the formation of seeds and so new plants. Thus, pollination is very helpful in flowering plants.
Bees do pollination and so, they are also called natural pollinators.
Now, that you have understood pollination, next know about the reason of pollination by bees.
Why Do Bees Pollinate? When bees seat on flowers to collect the nectar, the pollen grains get attached to the bees’ hairs and body parts. Thus, they can pollinate other flowers as they move from one flower to another carrying the pollen grains. They also collect pollen and nectar as food for the entire colony to feed on.
There are three types of honey bees within a hive: the queen, the female workers, and the male drones.
Most of these bees in a hive are workers bees (infertile females) that will spend their entire life foraging, creating wax cells, and filling these cells with honey and pollen.
The worker bees are also known as the forager bees and they are the only ones that pollinate.
- Why Do Bees Pollinate? 3 Reasons To Consider
- The process of pollination in brief
- Importance of Pollen Grains collected by the bees
- Do bees pollinate on purpose?
- How are bees attracted to the flowers?
Why Do Bees Pollinate? 3 Reasons To Consider
Primary Reason: To fertilize the flower
Yes, when the bees move from one flower to another, they keep on pollinating the flowers.
Pollination by bees simply means to transfer the pollen grains from the male anther of a flower to the female stigma.
When the bees are attracted to a flower they seat on it and start to collect nectar, flower oil, and pollen grains from the anther (male reproductive part) of the flower of a plant.
As a result, some pollens from the anther stick to the hairs of her body, in her legs, and in her head.
Next, when the bees are attracted to another flower, they seat there and start to collect the nectar from that flower.
In doing so, the pollen grains that were previously stuck to her body now get passed to the stigma (female reproductive part) of the new flower.
As a result, fertilization occurs when the pollen grains reach the stigma. This results in the formation of seeds, fruits, new plants, and so more and more flowers over the long run.
They do so for a living, knowingly or unknowingly
Bees are attracted to the flowers by means of various floral displays composed of visual, olfactory (sense of smell), tactile (sense of touch), and gustatory (sense of taste) stimuli.
The tiny vibrating hairs present in the body of the bee, let them find flowers by being electrostatically stimulated. Meaning that the bees have very small hairs in their body that they use to sense electric fields coming out of the flowers and then use them to search for pollen and nectar.
Bees also have the ability to detect ultraviolet light which humans can’t. Many colourful patterns of the flowers emit ultraviolet light that helps them detect the source of nectar.
When they seat on the flowers they keep on pollinating them one after the other. That’s how pollination by bees occurs naturally.
They do know that they need to collect nectar, floral oils, and pollen grains in order to bring food for the colony.
Nectar is used to make honey by the bees, Pollen grains are the source of fats and proteins for them, the flower oil is also used as food for their larvae and to line their nests.
Thus they know that they need to collect nectar, pollen, and oil for a living that hows they perform pollination knowingly.
On the other hand, the various stimuli like visual, olfactory, etc. create an instant reflex action to do pollination without even their wish (unknowingly).
To collect food for the colony
Bees Pollinate in order to collect pollen grains. Those pollen grains that are brought back to the beehive are called bee pollens.
Bee pollen is the primary source of fats and proteins for the hive. Pollen is a source of protein, minerals, fats, lipids, and vitamins for the bee colony.
Bee pollen is very different from the actual pollen grain. It contains special secretions made by the bee.
The pollen grains that are gathered from the flowers are mixed with bee secretions that induce a fermentation process that breaks down the walls of pollen grains. This pollen is stored in the chambers of the hives.
Bees also make bee pollen when it seats on the flowers. They collect pollen from plant anthers, mix it with a small dose of the secretion of their saliva and nectar, and place it in specific baskets (corbiculae) which are situated on the tibia of their hind legs.
Later on, when they come back to the hive, they store those saliva treated pollens from their corbiculae to the bee hive chambers.
That’s how they collect food for their colony during the process of pollination.
For brood nourishment and the development of young bees
Did you wonder what happens to the bee pollens that are stored in the beehive? Well, those are feed upon by the larvae and it provides them the nutrition to grow.
Forager bees that gather the pollens and keep it in the beehive do not eat it themselves, since they have stopped producing the proteolytic enzymes necessary to digest it.
The forager bees store the pollens that are mixed with their salivary secretions and the nectar directly into open cells located at the interface between the brood and stored honey. This chamber becomes the bee bread.
Bee bread is the storehouse of all of the bee pollen. And this is also the main food source of food for honey bee larvae and workers.
In some species, the foraging bees bring pollen back to the hive, and they simply pass it to other worker bees. The worker bees pack the pollen into cells.
Worker bees in the process also add some nectar and saliva making the pollen softer for the larvae to eat. This becomes the primary source of proteins.
Lipids, fats, vitamins, and other minerals are also included in the bee bread that nourishes the larvae to grow.
In some species, both the worker bees and forager bees are seen working in co-operation while packing the pollens into the cells.
The process of pollination in brief
The bees first find the flower they want to pollinate. They have various senses like the visual, olfactory, tactile, electrical, and gustatory senses that send stimuli and help them detect the flower.
After finding the flower, they go and seat on it. The bees climb onto or into the flower and suck up the nectar with their straw-like mouth and collect it in a little sac called a crop.
When a bee finds a rich source of food (flower), it shares this information with its fellow bees by doing round and waggle dance. As a result, more bees are attracted.
While sucking the nectar, the pollen grains from the anther of the flower often sticks to her hairy body and legs.
Next, after it has completed gathering the nectar it starts searching for another flower nearby, in order to gather more nectar.
As it seats on another flower, in the process it deposits those stuck pollen grains from her hairs to the stigma of the flower.
As a result, the pollen grains when reached the stigma, fertilize the egg present there. That’s the cause of fertilization of the flower due to pollination.
It’s stated that a foraging bee can pollinate more than 700 flowers per day if it flies with a maximum speed of up to 10 kilometres per hour at least.
The bees are known to change the location of their beehive as per the availability of pollen grains and nectar of the flowering plants.
Depending on the flowers available they choose the optimum place to create their hive and tries to create honey from as few flower sources as possible.
Importance of Pollen Grains collected by the bees
1. Honey bees during their process of collecting pollen and nectar as food from the flowers they do pollinate plants.
2. The ultimate function of pollen is to deliver male gametes (sperm) from the stamen of a plant to an ovule for fertilization of an egg, which then develops into a seed. This results in the growth of more plants and more flowers and so more food for the bees to grow their population.
3. The main diet of honey bees is comprised of honey and pollen.
4. The pollen grains when mixed with the honeybees’ salivary secretion and nectar that comes out from their mouth produces bee pollen. Bee Pollen is stored in the beehive as bee bread that serves as the food for the larvae and the workers as well.
5. Pollen grains collected by the bees help in both self-pollination and cross-pollination of the flowers. Self-pollination means pollination of a flower by pollen from the same flower or from another flower on the same plant. On the other hand, cross-pollination means pollination of a flower with pollen from another flowering plant.
6. Pollens are the source of protein mostly for the bees. Other nutrients like minerals, fats, lipids, and vitamins are also present in an adequate amount in the pollens.
7. Queens, males, workers, and larvae of the bees require vitamin B complex and vitamin C for their proper growth and development. It’s provided by the bee bread and honey which they have made with the use of pollen grains.
8. If worker bees collect and store significant amounts of pollen, then there is no need for the colony to seek out alternate protein sources.
9. Feeding on Pollen also helps in the treatment and prevention of various diseases and syndromes of the bees.
10. It has been studied that bees can detect the smell of the pollen grains and the nectar of the flower using their antennas and in doing so they can easily find their route for locomotion and detection of food.
Do bees pollinate on purpose?
Bees don’t pollinate on purpose. The forager bees intentionally go out to collect nectar and pollen grains for food but in doing so they pollinate the flowers unknowingly.
Some bee species are there that intentionally, on purpose, pollinate the flowers.
They do pollination for a living, whether knowingly or unknowingly.
When the various senses like the visual, olfactory, tactile, electrostatic, and gustatory senses send the stimuli to their nervous system they get automatically attracted to their food source (flowers). And, in doing so they pollinate the flowers one after the other.
When they know that they need to collect nectar, pollen, and oil for a living and for nourishing their offspring, they do compete with other bees in gathering food and so pollinate the flowers knowingly.
Even if they are pollinators, they surely don’t have a clue about pollination. They do what they need to do, in order to benefit themselves.
Pollination is just a process that happens unknowingly when they start collecting pollen grains.
There are some bee species that don’t even do pollination. They somehow collect the nectar of the flowers and ignore the pollen grains.
Just take the example of a Carpenter bee. They’re large, solitary bees and because of their size they can’t fit into the front end of small flowers, so they can’t pollinate them. But they still want the nectar so they simply cut a little hole in the side of the flower or somewhere at its bottom, and then sip nectar without performing any pollination duties.
This example literally shows that pollination just happens by chance if the bees try to gather pollen. That’s nature’s rule. And, if they don’t want pollen, no pollination occurs.
How are bees attracted to the flowers?
Bees are attracted to the flowers via. the following ways:
1. The smell of the flower oil and nectar stimulates the bees’ antennas. Thus, they get attracted to the flowers.
2. Bees use floral cues, such as odour, colour, size, and shape, to discriminate and recognize flowers.
3. Bees are drawn to plants with open or flat tubular flower contrasts with lots of pollen and nectar.
4. Bees also get attracted to the flowers through their tactile (sense of touch) stimulus. If a bee has ever brought a specific type of pollen grain, or nectar, or even the floral oil from a flower, it can keep that in its memory. The next time, the bee will be easily attracted to that same flower by recognizing it via. its body hairs by the sense of touch.
5. The bees get naturally attracted to the same flower and its nectar that it had previously tasted and collected for its hive. It can do so by using its claw’s which has the gustatory (sense of taste) stimulus.
6. The small hairs of the bees’ are used to sense electric fields coming out of flowers. Their body hairs can detect that field and can find the sources of pollen grains.
7. Many colourful patterns of the flowers emit ultraviolet light which they can visualize and that helps them to detect the flower and its source of nectar.
8. Bees have good color vision. A colourful garden always attracts more and more bees. Flower colors that particularly attract bees are blue, purple, violet, white, and yellow.
9. Bees are always in search of a variety. By having several flowering plant species at one place the bees get attracted very quickly.
10. Bees favor sunny spots over shade and need some shelter from strong winds. If your flower garden is in such a spot then, they will be attracted to the flowers and will often make their beehive somewhere nearby in the shade.
11. Bees are also attracted if your garden can offer a succession of flowers, and thus pollen and nectar, through the whole growing season.
12. Native bees are always attracted to the native flowering plants and their native nectar. Imported and Exotic flowering plants won’t create so much attraction for the native bees.