Bees can be just as unique as people with rare qualities that set them apart.
One of the most highly unusual and better known “bee acts” is the highly honed buzz pollination that the masterful bumblebee excels at. They literally vibrate the pollen right out of a flower.
Today we are highlighting an equally unusual bee that has flown under the radar for many people. The Australian Blue-Banded Bee species (Amegilla murrayensis) has a habit of headbanging to liberate pollen and is also referred to as a buzz pollinator. This bee also looks unusual, with metallic blue stripes instead of the standard honeybee colors. The solitary bee is native to Australia, where the females build solo burrows in clay or soil.
How much headbanging are we talking about? Literally 350 head-bangs per second. This makes the highly successful pollinator look like it is rocking out to hard rock or heavy metal music while foraging and pollinating plants.
High-speed headbanging, meaning this bee uses its head to gather pollen. Researchers have noticed that this tactic of vibrating the head rapidly is an effective way to distribute pollen.
Check out this unbelievable 1:06-minute high-speed video by LiveScience to see the buzz-frenzied bee flinging pollen all over the place.
And this shorter 0:31-minute close-up clip from Harvard University:
Scientists combined multiple techniques like audio recordings and high-speed video to study, compare and evaluate the differences in sonication behavior between the Blue-Banded Bee and the North American Bumblebee (Bombus impatiens), both of which are used for tomato pollination in Australia. Pollinating plants that hold their pollen in a capsule, like tomato plants, require buzz pollination to shake the pollen loose.
The results indicated that A. murrayensis buzzed at higher frequencies than bumblebees. The blue-banded bee also spent less time visiting a flower and only visited each flower once. The headbanging bee seems like a dream pollinator.
But the greatest revelation came from video. Nine clips of pollinating bees recorded at 2,000 frames per second showed the surprised scientists that instead of clutching the flower’s stamen and shaking the pollen loose, A. murrayensis was banging its head against the pollen cone at high speed, which the scientists calculated as being 350 times per second.
This unique approach to pollination stunned the scientists, according to Sridhar Ravi, study co-author and research fellow at the School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at RMIT University in Australia. Such behavior was never observed by any of them before, it is totally new.
According to the researchers, there are clear benefits to this unusual and efficient approach to pollination. A higher frequency headbanging vibration can break up clumps of wet pollen. It can also dislodge more pollen in general which explains the shorter solo flower visits.
Study co-author Katja Hogendoorn, a bee specialist at the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide, shared that previous research indicated blue-banded bees are effective pollinators. These new findings showing that these bees need less time per flower suggests that headbanging bees would be efficient pollinators.
You can check out the findings that were published online on December 1, 2015 in the journal Arthropod-Plant Interactions by clicking here.