Keeping antennae shiny and clean

All bees have an antenna cleaner on each of their two forelegs. The antenna cleaners are made of two parts: a notch in the basitarsus, which is fitted with stiff hairs, and a corresponding spur on the tibia. According to Mattingly (2013) “To use the antenna cleaner, the [bee] raises her foreleg over her antenna and then flexes her tarsus. This action allows the spur to close the notch and form a ring around the antenna.”

The bee pulls each antenna through the bristles to clean it of debris such as pollen or dust which might interfere with the many sensory organs within the antenna. According to Caron and Connor (2013) “Antennae smell, taste, perceive humidity and temperature, feel, monitor gravity and flight speed and even detect sound waves to help guide the bee in her daily activities.” Considering their importance, you can see why bees have to keep their antennae spit-shined and polished.

The little bee in the photo is a male Halictus rubicundus. I watched him sip nectar and then raise up on his hind legs and pull each antenna through the cleaners several times before flying off to the next flower. He repeated this pre-flight ritual between every blossom. These bees have long antennae, so it was easy to see even though the bee is quite small.

Rusty
HoneyBeeSuite

H_rubicundus-antenna-cleaning-2
Halictus rubicundus preparing for take-off. Photo © Rusty Burlew.

 

Comments

Tom
Reply

Great photo! Thanks

Emily
Reply

Best photo I’ve ever seen of antennae cleaning, beautiful.

Nancy
Reply

“Easy to see…” modestly shrugs the amateur photographer, who proceeds to capture it in a razor-sharp image. NOT easy to produce a photo this clear.
Next time I see a bee doing this, I’ll watch closer and understand better.
Thanks!
Nan

Beverly
Reply

Absolutely remarkable! Fantastic photo, too!
Were you the one that published the photo of the bee exuding wax from its body? Your site is so informative and fascinating for this backyard beekeeper of ONLY six years!! So much to learn! Many thanks.

Rusty
Reply

Beverly,

Thanks! The beeswax photo was first published here, but it was taken by beekeeper Debbe Krape of Delaware.

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