You probably know that honey bees collect nectar and pollen. But, do you know how they carry these valuable resources back to the hive? Honey bees are specially designed to collect, transport and process nectar and pollen into energy sources. They have unique physical features that enable them to do this important work and keep the colony happy and thriving.
Before we dive into how they transport these substances, let’s find out why bees need nectar and pollen in the first place.
Why Do Bees Need Nectar?
Nectar is a valuable source of energy and a critical component in honey. It provides food for the brood and nourishment for adult bees to use during the winter months when they cannot forage.
The worker bees are responsible for collecting nectar from flowering plants and herbs. Once the nectar is collected, the forager bees return to the colony to begin the process of transferring the nectar and converting it into honey. During the conversion process, the water content in the nectar is evaporated. Enzymes and digestive juices are also added to create honey.
Why Do Bees Need Pollen?
While nectar is the primary source of sugar and energy, pollen is the primary source of protein for the honey bee. Protein is vital to the success of the hive. It is the primary ingredient in bee bread, a mixture produced by nurse bees, and used to feed the larvae. Therefore, pollen plays a key role in successfully raising new bees. Just like bees need pollen, flowers rely on honey bees and other pollinators to spread their pollen to other flowers.
So now that we know why pollen and nectar are essential to bees, let’s find out how they carry the substances back to the hive for use as food.
How Do Honey Bees Transport Pollen?
Different bees have different ways of carrying pollen back to the hive. Honey bees have structures called corbiculae to collect and transport pollen. Also known as pollen baskets, these structures can be found on the back legs of worker bees. When empty, the pollen baskets are invisible. It is only when they are filled with pollen that they become visible. In fact, they become so noticeable that they can easily be seen by the naked eye. Once the baskets are full, the forager bees return to the hive and drop off the load.
How do they fill the pollen baskets? Great question!
While gathering nectar, honey bees find themselves covered in pollen. This is great for two reasons. Pollen stuck to the hair of a honey bee aids in pollination. It also makes it easier for honey bees to collect the pollen they need for food. Honey bees moisten the hairs on their front legs and brush the pollen to their back legs. The sticky mass of pollen that is formed is compressed into the pollen baskets.
How Do Honey Bees Transport Nectar?
When a honey bee lands on a flower, she will use her proboscis (almost like a bee tongue) to reach inside to slurp up the nectar. She will typically visit many flowers on one foraging trip and collect between 25 and 80 milligrams of nectar. The collected nectar is stored in the honey stomach, a second stomach that is only used to store nectar.
Once the honey stomach is full, the bee returns to the hive to begin the transfer process. The nectar is passed from bee to bee. This process helps to remove some water content from the nectar while adding special enzymes from the stomachs of the bees. Then, the nectar will make its way to the honeycomb cells where other worker bees will get to work. The bees fan the processed nectar, further evaporating the water and completing the honey-making process.
For more information on how bees make honey, check out these blog posts from D-Tek Live Bee Removal:
Nectar and pollen play vital roles in the success of honey bees. Both substances provide food and energy for honey bees that allow them to do their work. Without them, honey bees wouldn’t be able to feed their brood or restore the energy of the adult bees.
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