Honey bees are natural pollinators, carrying pollen from plant to plant as they go about their day. While this is immensely beneficial to the environment, it’s also a crucial part of the colony’s productivity and success. Honey bees gather pollen to help feed the colony—especially the young larvae. Because pollen plays such a crucial role in the life of honey bees, they need to be able to collect and transport it efficiently. Learn more about how honey bees collect pollen with this overview.
Foraging and Pollinating
There are many different ways to collect pollen. While other species of pollinators stick to a specific plant species or family, honey bees are less picky. They are polylectic pollinators, meaning they’ll visit a wide variety of flower types and colors when gathering resources. As a honey bee travels from flower to flower, the fur on its body picks up pollen. This pollen then travels with the bee and brushes off on the next flower, thus allowing the plants to pollinate. This is how bees still pollinate flowers even when they don’t forage for pollen. If they visit a flower just looking for nectar, the pollen still clings to them and travels from plant to plant.
Collecting for the Hive
We know how bees carry pollen between flowers, but how do honey bees collect pollen for the hive? The process starts much the same: as a honey bee flies between flowers and pollen sticks to the hairs on its body. This time, instead of letting the pollen transfer to the next flower it visits, the bee uses its legs to brush the pollen toward its hind legs. Here, stiff hairs called corbiculae, or pollen baskets, collect and hold the pollen. When these pollen baskets are full, the bee makes its way back to the hive to store the pollen for larvae to eat later, then leaves the hive again for another trip.
Just like with honey, bee colonies often have excess pollen that beekeepers can collect. Individuals can sell bee pollen and use it as a health supplement, making it just one of the ways beekeepers can make money from their hives. If you have an interest in honey bees and everything else they do in their daily lives, visit Mann Lake to learn more, purchase bee kits and other supplies, and connect with other bee enthusiasts.