As I was walking through the butterfly garden at the Sanctuary earlier this week, one of our volunteer naturalists pointed to a bee on a nearby flower and commented on its full “pollen baskets.”
Pollen baskets? Tell me more!
It turns out that in addition to their other amazing qualities, bees have what is called a comb on their hind legs. The comb is made up of small hairs that aid in the collection of pollen. The worker bee takes a bit of nectar, wets the pollen so that it sticks together and deposits the granules into tiny baskets – another collection of hairs situated right above the comb. Pollen is almost microscopic, so visible granules of any size are made up of thousands of pieces of pollen.
Perhaps the most miraculous thing about this natural storage basket is that it can hold up to 1 million grains of pollen. Although many insects collect pollen from flowers, none can rival the bee’s production. However, even though the bee’s body is ideally designed for pollen-gathering, it takes considerable effort. Depending on the efficiency of the worker bee, filling the basket takes between 3 and 18 minutes, after which she carries only two pollen packets back to the hive. It takes an average of 20 pairs of pollen packages to fill one honeycomb cell, meaning that bees work pretty much non-stop to supply the hive.
Next time you’re out working in the yard or walking the trails at The Ridges, check out the bees. Baskets swollen with pollen (like the one pictured here) mean you’ve spotted one of nature’s most fascinating creations hard at work!