Buttercup bees: they are what they eat

No, no. I meant they wear what they eat. Imagine going to the store for peanut butter and coming home slathered in the stuff. That’s what bees like to do.

Pollination is enhanced by the pollen that sticks to the hairs of the bee’s body. This pollen adheres easily, and when the bee brushes against the stigma of another flower, the pollen is just as easily released—all of which insures pollination will occur. On the other hand, the pollen stuffed into the honey bee’s corbiculae forms a hard pellet. Pollen stuck together in these tight packages is essentially unavailable for pollination.

Large quantities of pollen

Flowers compensate for this loss—and other natural losses—by producing huge amounts of pollen. It is not unusual to see pollen coating the surfaces of cars, ponds, pools, and lawn chairs. Sometimes clouds of it waft from trees and shrubs when the wind blows. The amount the bees pack out to the hive is trivial compared to the amount produced.

If a bee comes back to the hive covered in pollen, she stuffs the pellets into the comb and other bees assist her in grooming away the rest. This bonus pollen is mixed with nectar and stored in cells just like the pellets. Nothing goes to waste.

Honey Bee Suite


  • Do you know ? I have had trouble with a set of hives which have a huge field of buttercup right next to them. I checked them yesterday and while there are masses of workers all looking busy the brood box was almost completely empty! No eggs, no lava, no capped off, no queen, no drones, no food but hundreds of bees!! Came away as the site looks as if it should be perfect, googled buttercup only to find they give off toxins which can kill the larvae developing? Has any one heard of this? It is a big field of buttercups! I was dreaming of buttercup honey not death of hives?

    • It’s hard to say. Buttercups definitely produce toxic pollen, but I never see honey bees gathering it. At most I see a few native bees in the buttercups, but I don’t know if they are susceptible to the toxin or not. I think that for the most part, honey bees ignore the buttercups unless there is absolutely nothing else available.

  • Thank you, I have also sent a question to the university of Sussex ,where pollen research is done at the moment .

  • I have defiantly seen my bees on buttercups, but not in any great number. I haven’t seen any negative effects in the hive, but I’m also relatively new to this. I’m thinking that maybe in small doses they can use it?

    Also, do they get nectar from buttercups? I was under the impression that they only took pollen from them.

    • Tyrel,

      I agree with the adage, “the dose makes the poison.” Simply put, a little of something usually doesn’t do damage. I wouldn’t worry about an occasional bee sampling the buttercups. And no, I don’t think bees get nectar from buttercups, just pollen.

  • Thank you for the follow up. I may need to move hives I have to another part of the deer farm so they aren’t so close and make use of others flowers which grow in the fields of hay meadows.

    • Totty,

      Unless you can move the bees a couple of miles, it won’t make much difference. Honey bees easily forage a couple miles in all directions, so once they know where a resource is, they will go right back. I think you are over-thinking the buttercups. As long as they are not restricted to buttercups, they will collect from many floral sources and dilute any negative effects.

  • I also have not seen my bees on buttercup flowers, and doubt the bee with the orange pollen has collected it from buttercups. There is a picture in Willy Robson’s book, Reflections on Beekeeping, of a honey bee collecting pollen from buttercups and it is yellow.

    • Walter,

      I, too, doubt the bee with the orange corbicula collected buttercup pollen. However, I believe the pollen on its back and the pollen in the corbicula is the same pollen. The color of pollen often changed drastically when it is mixed with nectar and stuffed in the pollen baskets. It make go from light blue to dark blue, pink to purple, yellow to orange, or white to tan.

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