Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A tisket, a tasket, two little pollen baskets!

A week or so ago I was walking along the Little Miami River when I looked up and saw a honey bee buzzing around the blossoms on a Buckeye tree. She was high over my head, but I could still see two little red balls on her hind legs. "What are those?" went through my mind. I've seen yellow "clumps" on a honey bee's hind legs before, which I assumed were grains of pollen the bee had picked up while pollinating flowers, but I had never seen red clumps, much less red balls. A quick Internet search when I got home solved the mystery--"pollen baskets." Not all bees have pollen baskets, and not all pollen baskets function the same, but it seems the color of the pollen in the baskets is determined by the pollen source. Our little bee was pollinating Buckeye trees when I saw her, but maybe the red pollen came from a flower she had just visited. Either way, the thought of the busy bee inspired a quick painting...

Painting 220. Busy Bee with Red Pollen Baskets (oil pastel)
This is just a generic representation of a bee...it came out of my head, so it doesn't match any species in a field guide!

Pencil sketches from my sketchbook of honey bees with full pollen baskets...
When I got home that evening, I created an entry in my sketchbook. Again, these are just generic drawings of bees as I see them in my imagination. I don't know the species. I just thought the pollen baskets were cool, and wanted to record what I saw.


More about pollen baskets...
A pollen basket (or "corbicula") is a slightly concave, smooth surface on the hind legs of bumble bees, honey bees, orchid bees, and stingless bees. The "basket" is surrounded by guard hairs that hold in pollen the bee has dampened with nectar or honey and compressed into a "pollen pellet." When the bee mixes the pollen with nectar, the color of the pollen changes, but it is the source of the pollen that really determines the color of the pollen pellets in the pollen basket. Bee keepers can identify the pollen source just by looking at the pellets deposited at the hive. Bees that don't have pollen baskets have other structures for transporting pollen. Some use "scopa," a brush of hairs often on the hind legs and some carry the pollen in their crop. (Soure: Encyclopedia of Entomology 2008, pgs 419-434, here; Wikipedia, here, and for examples of pollen sources and their color, click here.)

...the red balls on this honey bee's hind legs (tibia) are called pollen baskets (corbicula). Pollen is a bee's main source of protein, fat, minerals, and some starches, so it's important the bee has a way to transport the food back to the hive. (Click here for a detailed article on bees that explains more about their dietary needs.)

...this little bee has been very busy! Her pollen baskets look almost full. It takes a worker bee from three to eighteen minutes to fill up the pollen baskets and return to the hive. That's quite a difference. I guess it depends on the abundance of pollen at the source...or whether the busy little bee is simply a slacker! (Source: Wikipedia. To learn more about bee research, check out Karl von Frisch, here.)

A buckeye tree with newly emerged leaves and blossoms just beginning to open was a favorite of this honey bee. Through the camera lens I could just make out the red balls on her legs. I almost didn't photograph the bee because she was so far away, but I wanted to find out what those red balls were! I'm glad I did...

...a sketchbook scribble I almost didn't include, but it's fun...and I need the paintings for the challenge! :-)
Painting 221. Busy Little Bee, Take That Pollen on Home! 

(watercolor and pencil--scribble idea for a future painting)

17 comments:

Elaine said...

Kelly, you inspire me with all the things you've taught me about birds and other critters. I didn't know about pollen baskets and just thought all bees collected pollen on scopa--yes, that's a new word for me. I'm glad you took those photos too. They turned out quite nicely and are a great illustration for the pollen baskets, plus it's lovely to see the new leaves, something we haven't got here yet. Love the painting! I think your generic Kelly Bee is exactly how most of us picture a bee.

rebeccainthewoods said...

Cool!

Lois Evensen said...

All the things you find and I learn here are amazing. I don't remember ever seeing bees with red pollen pouches.

Roy said...

I love your pencil sketches Kelly.
You could complete a book of such sketches and it would be commercially successfull I think.

Jen said...

Very interesting, and I love your sketches.

Kat Griffin said...

I really enjoy your blog and your art
- KAT

Bob Bushell said...

It's buzzing you!!!!!

Guy said...

Hi Kelly

I love your sketches and the information and photographs you included were wonderful as well.
I really enjoy your observations of the natural world.

Regards
Guy

Gillian Olson said...

Great pictures and thanks for the info on pollen baskets, I have learned something new. What a great start to the day.

ShySongbird said...

A fascinating post Kelly and beautifully illustrated with your paintings and sketches!

Mary Ann Gieszelmann said...

Such interesting stuff I learn from this site! Thanks, Kelly

Janice K said...

Pretty amazing! I had never heard of pollon baskets until a few years ago when someone pointed them out in a picture. Funny how you can see something all your life and not notice something pretty important. I've certainly never seen red ones though.

Jerry said...

I love the 'generic Bee' - it ought to be real. Perhaps it should be called a Red Peanut Bee!

Kelly said...

:-) Thanks everyone for not getting freaked out at "monster bee," as one friend called my painting (bees make her nervous!). ...and also thank you for the kind comments. Everyone is always so nice! I'm glad to know others didn't know about "pollen baskets." I was worried I might have been the only one who didn't know! Now I'm going to check out the "bee's knees" every time I see one to see what color the pollen is.

Montanagirl said...

Terrific post again, Kelly! I had never heard of Pollen Baskets. I always learn something new when I visit your blog! Love your photos and illustrations.

Pierre BOYER said...

Great work...

Pierre

knudsonerica said...

For fun, I was just browsing for sketches of honeybees. Thanks for sharing your great drawings!
www.francesandthebee.blogspot.com