The Buzz on Buzz-Pollination
The delightful bumblebee, with its intense thrumming buzz, has an advantage over the honeybee when it comes to unlocking the delicious protein-rich pollen of certain flowers.
As you'll see in the short video below, that potent buzzing sound acts as a secret key to unlock a treasure trove of pollen hidden deep inside the male part of the plant, known as the anthers. Just like a jet revs its engines to the right intensity before take-off, a pollinator must buzz in just the right way to literally vibrate the tiny granules of pollen out of the micro-pores atop the anthers so the bee can be rewarded with a yummy protein snack.
Causing the flower's anthers to vibrate shakes up the pollen so it spews out of the pores. This is the only way that the pollen can escape. Otherwise, no pollination can occur. The bumblebee is a messy creature, which ensures that the flower can count on some pollen being carried to other flowers of its type and rubbed or dropped on the female parts so pollination takes place.
Buzz-pollination, also known as floral sonication, is a risky and strategic art. But it is vitally important to 8% of all flowering plants. Potatoes, tomatoes, blueberries, cranberries, pumpkins and eggplants are pollinated this way as well as flowers like the senna. Without wild and daring buzz pollinators like the bumblebee, these plants would struggle to reproduce.
This 3:49-minute video shows high quality footage of buzz-pollination and some adorable bumblebees!
Most plants wear their pollen on the outside of their anthers to lure pollinators by producing sweet nectar. This makes it easy for any and all bees to feast on the rewards, get dusted with pollen while they are at it, and deliver the pollen passively to other flowers they visit.
But certain plants hide their pollen, waiting for the perfect pollinator, the bumblebee. These plants puzzle scientists, because they encourage bees to eat the pollen and hope some of it makes its way to the female part of another flower. These buzz-pollinated plants give little to the bumblebee in return for a pretty huge expenditure of its energy.
Anne Leonard, a biologist at University of Nevada, Reno, studies buzz-pollination. She explains that to produce the strong vibrations that force pollen out of the flower's anthers, the bumble bee contracts its indirect flight muscles. The bee can generate a force of up to 30 g while sonicating.
To put this into perspective, during a test run a rocket sled was moving at 150 mph with a 185 lb test dummy inside. Upon braking, the resulting 30 g-force broke the seat belt and the dummy was catapulted 700 feet from the sled.
It seems like the flower is playing hard to get, and the bumblebee is a willing partner in this high-vibe buzz-dance.
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