Blue-banded bees: the buzz from Australia
I have been a fan of the Australian native blue-banded bee, Amegilla cingulata, for a long time, mostly because of its gorgeous blue-striped abdomen. Because these bees are buzz pollinators, they make a significant agricultural contribution wherever they occur. According to Wikipedia, blue-banded bees assist in the pollination of about 30% of Australian crops.
Like the honey bee, the blue-banded bee is in the Apidae family. Unlike honey bees, however, blue-banded bees are solitary ground-nesters. They build tunnels in the ground or in soft rocks, one female per nest.
Buzz pollination, also called sonication, is a process in which the bee hangs onto a flower and vibrates her muscles furiously. The rapid vibrations release pollen from deep inside the flower. Many agricultural crops, including tomatoes, eggplants, blueberries, and cranberries require buzz pollination. But most bees, including honey bees, are not built for this amazing trick.
According to an article in ABC Science (Australia), the blue-banded bee dislodges the pollen by banging her head onto the anthers of the flower 350 times per second—a speed that’s beyond my comprehension. Compare that to the bumble bee, queen of buzz pollination here in the states. The bumble bee buzz pollinates by banging her chest into the anthers, but at a leisurely pace of only 240 times per second. Laggards!
The YouTube video posted below was taken by Callin Switzer. It shows a blue-banded bee pollinating a cherry tomato flower. The action, less than one second in real time, is filmed in super slow motion. It’s unclear to me when or how she gets the pollen into her tibial scopa, but based on the size of her load, she obviously knows how to do it.
Special thanks to Kurt Verkest for sending the link.
Honey Bee Suite