wild bees and native bees

Bicolored pollen pellets on a bumble bee

Yesterday, I saw this bumble bee foraging on a self-heal flower, Prunella vulgaris. The thing that stands out is the bicolored pollen pellets, orange fading into white.

Although you can see bicolored pollen pellets frequently on bumble bees, you almost never see them on honey bees. Honey bees have very strong floral fidelity, which means once they begin collecting pollen, they stick with that same flower type for the entire foraging trip. Other bee species have less floral fidelity and will often switch flower types to fill out their load.

Floral fidelity is one of the characteristics that makes the honey bee such great a pollinator. Once a honey bee is in a field or orchard, she keeps pollinating that particular crop, whereas other bee species sometimes switch to different flowers. They may, for example, start out pollinating a crop like apples and then get distracted by something growing in a hedgerow or roadside, like a dandelion.

This bumble changed her mind at some point in her foraging trip, but she sure makes a pretty picture, all orange and glowy.

Bicolored pollen pellets on a bumble bee.

A bumble bee foraging on self-heal. Notice the bicolored pollen pellets. © Rusty Burlew.

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  • I always see bees eating my raspberries and peaches. Why wouldn’t I add these fruits to a sugar feeding mixture? Seems it would add needed enzymes, carbohydrates, minerals, vitamins, etc.

    • David,

      The main reason is that fruit juice is high in ash. That’s okay while bees are flying, but if it’s for winter feed, it can cause honey bee dysentery.

  • OK. Would sugar water+filtered fruit juice concentrate be ok for winter feeding? It seems that pure glucose is lacking many of the other things the bees need?

    • David,

      It might be fine. I was just in conversation about this earlier this week. Honey bees do extremely well on refined sugar, usually better than on anything else because of the confinement thing. Bees use the sugar for energy and they use bee bread/pollen for nutrients. Once bees emerge into the adult form, they don’t grow like vertebrate animals, they emerge fully formed. So they require very little in the way of nutrients, and what they do require comes from pollen and fermented bee bread. I have read warnings about feeding juice, particularly apple juice, although I recognize bees drink that kind of thing when they can find it. Ash is anything that won’t burn, and includes things like calcium, phosphorous, iron, and magnesium.

      Then there is the problem of too much water, which I explain in this post: “Honey bee dysentery and water.” For more on ash read, “Is organic sugar better for bees.”

      Nevertheless, you can always try it and see what happens.

  • Very interesting evidence in your photograph too. Shows that they pack their corbiculae evenly to keep balanced. They don’t fill one side first, then the other. I suppose it is best not to be unbalanced and fly around in circles! 🙂

  • Thanks Rusty for the cool picture and explanation! I really appreciate all of the pictures and information you provide regarding “wild” bees we see in our backyard. I would have never thought to think about the different colored pollen.

    Today I had three different looking bumbles in the lavender and I am eager to identify and learn more about them. I’ll be looking a bit closer from here on out!