Pollen is an extremely important source of nutrition for honeybees and beekeepers will often talk about pollen sources throughout the season. So we’re going to talk about how our wondrous bees gather pollen and why it is hugely important to the development of the brood.
Honeybees have a specific pollen collecting apparatus called corbiculae, which is why you see bees carrying big patties of pollen on their legs. The corbicula is slightly concave and located on their hairy hind legs. After the honeybee visits a flower she is often speckled with little pollen granules, honeybees being a very hygienic insect, groom themselves and as the rub their legs, the pollen is brushed down into this section where it ends up being gathered tightly into a big perfect pellet of pollen!
In the process of collecting nectar and pollen, they also freely pollinate the flowers they visit, a beautiful example of nature at its finest. Honeybees with their incredible work ethic and engineered body are often known to be put to work in pollination contracts.
So why do bees store the pollen? This is because pollen is an extremely important source of nutrition for bees. Nurse worker bees consume pollen in order to develop their hypopharyngeal glands, the gland that eventually produces royal jelly to feed to larvae and a future queen. Nurse bees communicate the demand for pollen, not only the quantity but the quality to the foragers, as you all know, bees work very closely to a common goal.
This is why you will see copious amounts of pollen being brought in as the brood nest expands. A rule of thumb is that if you see your bees bringing in pollen, brood is definitely being raised! Fresh pollen is sometimes consumed as you see it on their legs, usually through grooming , however stored pollen is often mixed with nectar, digestive fluids and all that goodness, and once it has time to ferment it becomes what is known as bee bread, and this is a source of food for all worker bees and larvae.
The importance of pollen to raising brood is also evident when you see the classic band of pollen surrounding the patch of brood, it gives easy access for the nurse bees to nourish themselves and to feed the larvae.
Therefore when you’re checking your bees, you will know that it is essential to check if they have enough food to sustain them until their next check, some beginners make the mistake of only really checking for honey stores – however a colony not bringing in pollen is not a great sign for brood development and in consequence, the health of your colony as a whole.
So the next time you go through your colony, marvel at the amazing variety of pollen that your bees are bringing in, from purple, forest green to bright yellow pollen, our girls never fail to amaze us!