Have you ever noticed that some of the bees you see flying have these orange or yellow clumps on their hind legs?
If you haven’t, they look like this.
That orange mass on her leg is pollen that she has gathered from flowers she has been visiting during her foraging bout. Female bees provision their offspring with pollen (mixed with a little nectar), which means they have to visit numerous flowers (sometimes 100 plus per trip!) to gather enough pollen to feed each offspring that is produced. It would be incredibly inefficient for them to have to travel back to their nest after visiting each flower. So, to be more efficient female bees have a special apparatus for holding and transporting pollen. The pollen collecting apparatus in apid bees, which include honey bees and bumblebees, is commonly called a ‘pollen basket’ or corbicula. This region is located on the tibia of the hind legs and consists of hairs surrounding a concave region. After the bee visits a flower, she begins grooming herself and brushes pollen gathered on her body down toward her hind legs and packs the pollen into her pollen basket. A little nectar mixed with the pollen keeps it all together, and the hairs in the pollen basket hold it in place.
Other bees have a similar apparatus, only it is called a scopa and can be located on the hind legs and/or the ventral side of their abdomen. Look at the abdomen of the bee in the photo below:
Check out the furry legs on this cactus bee:
You may be wondering…’well, what is the difference between a pollen basket and the scopa?’ The main difference is that the pollen basket is a concave region surrounded by coarse hairs, whereas the scopa is just a region with a dense mass of specialized hairs (setae). But, both pollen baskets and scopa do the same job…transport pollen.
Now that spring is here, go out and check out the bees and look at their hind legs and their abdomen. If you see large pollen loads like these, or you see a bee that looks like she is covered with pollen, you know she has been working hard!
Guest post by entomologist Anna D. Howell of Anna’s Bee World