honey bee behavior pollen

Bee with bi-pollen disorder?

After I wrote about floral fidelity and the purity of pollen baskets, I received this awesome photo by Chelsea at thehoneybeat.com. Look carefully and you will see the worker in the center of the photo has pollen baskets of two distinctly different colors. So how did this happen?

I’ve tried to think this through, but it’s tough. On one hand, the pollen baskets look to be pure, just like normal. In other words, the yellow and orange pollens are not mixed together, but kept separate.

But on the other hand, how did she do this? Surely, she wouldn’t fill one basket completely and then the other. If so, she’d be flying lopsided. Pollen baskets are always filled at the same rate so the bee stays balanced.

Was she foraging on two types of pollen at once and separating each color as she went? This seems equally unlikely.

Chelsea asked if I had any ideas but, in truth, the more I think about it, the confused-er I get.


How did this happen? Photo by Chelsea

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  • Photoshop? Assuming, however, that this is a real photo it is clearly an aberration. I have watched thousands upon thousands of bees returning with pollen but have never seen this. On the other hand genetic abnormalities do exist. Maybe this is Darwin’s theory of evolution in reverse. This bee may have a mutation which causes it lose its floral fidelity. If these mutations were to be passed on, the plants which depend on these bees for pollination could become extinct and, perhaps, the bees also. Or maybe it’s more akin to someone being born with six toes on each foot. 🙂

    • I swear my Photoshop skills aren’t good enough to have altered that shot! My photography skills are just barely good enough to have caught the photo. Jeff saw the bee and I got my camera out as fast as I could. She didn’t go straight inside the hive, so I had a few chances to get the photo, but there always seemed to be another bee in front or she was moving so it was blurry. This one turned out the best.

      It’s nuts though, right??

  • Are there any flowers that make two colors of pollen? Or could she have unintentionally packed her baskets with pollen from two flowers touching each other? I can’t puzzle this one out. There’s no way it makes sense with my knowledgebase.

    • You’re not the only one who can’t figure it out. Several very experienced beekeepers have e-mailed saying they’ve never seen anything like it.

  • My hive is just a couple dozen feet in front of my clothes line. My bees buzz just over my head as I hang my clothes out to dry. Perhaps this bee flew close enough to someone’s red fleece Crimson Tide jersey and picked up a speck of lint on her way back to the hive. Or perhaps some other red fuzzy substance was encountered on the return flight? There might merely be a thin veneer of red covering the yellow pollen inside.

    • Paul,

      You are right. It would have been fascinating to see inside that pollen pellet.

      I’ve got a question for you, however. How’s your laundry looking? If it looks anything like my truck, you are in serious trouble!

      • Rusty,

        I have not noticed anything wrong with my laundry, so far. My hive has just finished filling all 10 brood frames with comb, honey, etc., after having started a few weeks ago as a 5 frame nuc colony. So, the traffic above my clothes line has thickened of late.

        What does your truck look like?

    • 12 years later, that or bumped into red paint or something.
      It’s an explanation that makes any sense and it doesn’t make much sense.

  • The bees in our backyard began to bring in fluorescent pollen recently. It might be dog berry pollen. I don’t know yet. It’s purty neat, though.

  • Dog berry might also be called Mountain Ash. Maybe. I should look it up but I’m too tired. I’ll try to grab a photo.

  • From wikipedia :
    The rowans or mountain-ashes are shrubs or small trees in genus Sorbus of family Rosaceae. They are native throughout the cool temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere, with the highest species diversity in the mountains of western China and the Himalaya, where numerous apomictic microspecies occur.[1] The name rowan was originally applied to the species Sorbus aucuparia, and is also used for other species in Sorbus subgenus Sorbus.[2] Rowans are unrelated to the true ash trees which belong to the genus Fraxinus, family Oleaceae, though their leaves bear superficial similarity.

  • I’ve heard that bees with obsessive neatness behaviour, will sometimes sort pollen based on colour or other factors not know to humans (probably flavour). But that happens inside the hive, but maybe a related behaviour?

  • Hi,

    I know this thread is old but I’d say maybe visited different color lily or poppies? Big smudgy anthers!

    You could have a garden full of either in various shades. Field of Pink poppy with yellow pollen mixed with red poppies with black pollen. Lillies have a range of pollen colors too. Yellow, orange, brick red, and darker shades. Same species different colors that can pollinate each other. LOVE your site! Lots of concise well-written useful info. Especially liked the article about entrances in supers. It was something I had wondered about nice to know it works! Had a swarm of honey bees take up residence this year in an empty hive I was planning to order bees for. Reading up a bunch. books & online.

    • Multiple colors of pollen still would not account for it being separated on her two legs. Bees load both legs at the same time to keep the weight balance. So both would be multicolored, not two separate colors.

  • Assuming the photo is authentic, here’s a possibility that could explain it: the bee has both pollen baskets full with one kind of pollen and heads back to the colony but along the way somehow loses one pellet (hits something, etc.). We know that they lose pellets in the process of entering the hive all the time so why could it not happen at some distance from the colony? Then, as you say, unbalanced, she stops to grab some ballast for the side with the missing pellet and just happens to load up with pollen of a different color. Could happen?

    • Cal,

      Verrrry interesting explanation. I don’t see why it couldn’t happen.

      I know the person who sent the photo, and I consider her a reliable source.