Pollen Baskets

Honey bees, bumble bees, stingless bees and orchid bees all collect pollen using structures on their hind legs which are delightfully termed ‘pollen baskets’.

Here we have a few images of a European honey bee showing just how it’s done, with the shiny orange masses of pollen attached to both hind legs on show.

The bee moistens its forelegs with its tongue and brushes pollen from its head, body and forward legs to the ‘pollen comb’ on the hind legs, where it is then combed and compacted into the pollen basket.

The pollen basket is a smooth cavity on the surface of its hind leg, surrounded by a fringe of hairs. A single hair in the middle pins the pollen load, which is moistened with honey or nectar to ensure its stickiness.

Only female (worker) bees have these pollen baskets. Male (drone) bees do not collect pollen; their job is to simply mate with a fertile queen, an act which unfortunately results in imminent death as their penis and abdominal tissues are ripped from their body on completion of the deed. A deed which impressively occurs in flight, but not so impressively is over within 5 seconds.

Click the pictures to embigginate!

Equipment

For these shots I used –

  • Canon 6D
  • EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
  • A very old Sigma hot shoe flash with small softbox

Bonus for Maths Nerds!

Male bees (drones) are the result of an unfertilised egg and technically only have a mother. If we trace a drone’s family tree back, we start of with a generation of 1 member, being the drone itself. One generation back is also size 1, being the drone’s mother (a queen). This queen has both a mother and a father (a queen and a drone), so this generation size is 2. Following this pattern, we end up with a sequence of numbers in each generation of 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13….. the Fibonacci sequence!

Honey bee in yellow flower with full pollen baskets

 

Honey bee in flower with full pollen basket

 

Close up of honey bee pollen basket

 

 

I’m no Entomologist! Help me to correct any mistakes by leaving a comment or contacting me via the contact page.

 

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