Friday, October 8, 2010

Pollen Face, I Love You

Bees collect nectar from flowers and they also collect a fine powdery substance called pollen.
[This is one of my honey bees, covered in pollen from golden rod flowers. They bloom in the fall. You'll often see them alongside highways, fields and the woods].
Pollen comes in many colours such as: White, yellow, red, orange, blue, purple, green and even black .
[Can you see the coloured pollen in these honeycomb cells? What colours do you see?]
How does pollen get its colour? From the flower. The next time you see flowers, look at the centers. What colour is the powdery pollen? Every flower has its own unique colour.
Some flowers such as poppies and tulips can have black pollen. I'm sure the black pollen tastes just as nice as the red or yellow.

Even tiny flowers can have pollen.

Have you ever stuck your nose into a flower to sniff its perfume? I've done that and I got the yellow powder on my nose. That made me a little bit like a bee.

Pollen is part of the life force of a plant and its needed for a plant to produce its babies...seeds. Those seeds will make new flowers.

Flowers have a special relationship with bees and they are reliant on the bees to help them to create their seeds.

Bees have a special relationship with flowers and they are reliant on the flower's pollen to use as food for their babies.

They need each other for their survival: The flower and the bee.

Here's how it works:

Each flower creates its own unique pollen. The pollen on one flower needs to be put into another flower.

But how can it get there? Flowers don't have legs to walk over and mix their pollin into another flower.

But the flowers know someone who can carry their pollen from one flower to the next. Can use guess who that someone is? Yes, it's the bees.

The bee will fly into a flower. As she digs down into it her fur will become coated with pollen. Her fur is specially designed to hold pollen.

Actually, when a bee flies, her body creates static electricity and that also helps the pollen to stick to her fur. (I'll tell you more about static electricity another time).

The bee will use her legs to scrape some of that pollen up. Then she'll add some of her spit and honey to it to moisten it. Then she'll stick it to her back leg where there's really stiff hairs that will hold it in place.

After that she's ready to fly home to drop off her packages. Then she'll go out and look for more flowers and more pollen.

Pollen is very important to bees because it's full of protein. Baby bee larvae need to eat pollen so they'll grow healthy and strong. Just like how you and I need protein too so we'll grow.

Some people like to eat pollen as a health food or to help their allergies to flowers to be not so bad. Pollen is nutritious and it's full of vitamins. It tastes like flour with sugar added to it. No wonder the bees like it.

This is a tray of pollen that a beekeeper has collected. You can see that it's mostly a green colour. The beekeeper will put this pollen in a jar to sell to people. (In another story I'll tell you how the beekeeper collects pollen from the bees).

Some flowers don't need bees to mix their pollen for them. Plants like wheat that grows in the field (used to make your bread) are pollinated by the wind blowing.
Most flowering plants also offer Nectar to bees. I'll tell you about that next time.

Do you have a question about bees? If you do, you can leave a question in the comments section or you can contact me through my website:

Monday, October 4, 2010

Bees Have Teeth!

They do have teeth. They really do.

But these teeth aren't for chewing.

We covered mouth parts of the bee previously where we looked at bee mandibles that open and close like a gate and their long soft pointy tongue called a probocsis.
But there are no teeth in a bee's mouth.

So, where are the teeth? On their wings of course!
Are you wondering why a bee would have teeth on their wings? To make it easier to fly of course.
[Note: All these photos are of bumble bees and not honey bees. It's just the photos were really nice wing shots so I wanted to use them].

Here's Why: Bees have four wings. They have a larger wing and a smaller wing on each side.
Most of the time if we see a bee just standing there we see two wings. What we're seeing is the large wings closed up and sitting on top of the smaller wings.

Why do they have four wings? To make flying easier.

When a bee wants to fly she locks the larger and smaller wings together with tiny zipper-like teeth that are located on the edge of the wing.

Once the wings are locked they form two nice large flying wings.

Here's some honey bee flying facts:

* A honeybee can fly 24 km in an hour at a speed of 15 mph.

* Its wings beat 200 times per second or 12,000 beats per minute.

* Most bees fly in a range of about 5 miles from their hive looking for pollen and nectar.

When inside the hive, or when working inside a flower, bees unlock the teeth so they can move their wings over their back.
They do that so their wings won't get damaged while they're working.

A honey bee will also tuck her wings on her back so she can dunk down inside a honeycomb cell.

Bees don't just use their wings for flying. They'll also use them as fans to send out their scents for the other bees to smell. Some of their scents can be "home smell" so a bee outside foraging will be able to sniff her way home.

Another smell could be "Red Alert we're under attack". I bet you can guess what that message means. Yes, sting!

On hot summer days the bees will use their wings as fans to cool the hive by moving hot air out of the hive and bringing cool air in. This is called ventilating the hive.
Bees can do air conditioning to cool the hive on hot days too, but that's another story I'll tell you about another time.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Nurse Bee

I especially love nurse bees. They are most often newly hatched bees. A newly hatched baby bee will have lots of soft golden fur.

They spend most of their time working inside the hive as a house bee.

Nurses take care of their baby sister and brother larvae. Bees have four stages in their life cycle: Egg, Larva (worm); Pupa, and Bee.

Have you ever had to babysit or take care of your brothers and sisters? If so, then you know what it's like to be a nurse bee.

Nurses take care of the eggs and larva. They feed young larva a pudding-like food called royal jelly and they feed older larvae a mixture of pollen and honey, called bee bread.

[Click on the picture above to enlarge. Then look closely at the cells that aren't capped. Can you see the tiny white larvae curled up inside? Those are the babies that the nurses are taking care of].

They also keep the babies warm. The workers will shiver their wing muscles which generates heat and they will cluster in a mass on top of the honeycombs where the babies are, sharing their body heat.

[Click to enlarge this photo - look carefully at the cells in the middle of the photo. Can you see the tiny rice-like eggs? They will hatch in three days.]

Bees really love their babies and they do everything they can to protect and take care of them.

Nurse bees really are devoted caregivers.