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How Do Bees Pollinate? Learn About This Fascinating Process

You’ve probably heard a lot about pollination and pollinators at some point, but what does that mean?

Pollination is an essential process that helps all plant life on earth grow and thrive. That means it also supports the nearly infinite number of other animals that need those plants to survive and so on through the food chain.

Honey bees are some of the most effective pollinators in the world, but how do bees pollinate and why do they do it?

Read on to learn all about how bees pollinate and why it’s so important for everything that lives on this planet.

How Do Bees Pollinate

How Do Bees Pollinate and What Is Pollination?

Pollination is when pollen from the male component of one flower reaches the female stigma of another flower. Once these two parts combine, the seeds of the plant can then become fertilized to continue the growth of the species.

Plants can be pollinated in several different ways. Some have very light pollen that blows in the wind (think pine trees with their yellow pollen). Other plants need their pollen to be transferred by a pollinator to ensure it ends up in the right place.

When a bee collects nectar and pollen from one flower, she then moves to the next flower of the same kind. With every new flower she lands on, she deposits some of that pollen into different flowers. This is known as cross-pollination, and it allows those plants to reproduce, which in turn helps food-bearing plants grow, among many others.

Despite being so effective at it, the honey bees aren’t intentionally pollinating. They just collect pollen to help feed their own hive because pollen is an important part of their diet. Therefore, pollination is a byproduct of normal foraging bee behavior.

Are Bees the Only Pollinators?

Actually, bees are far from the only pollinators hard at work out there in the world. There are many species that transfer pollen between plants.

Other pollinators include bats, hummingbirds and other small birds, some small mammals, butterflies, other types of bees, and many other insects. Any animal that moves from one flower to another can be responsible for pollination. You can often observe these creatures out pollinating on a warm sunny day.

While bees aren’t solely responsible for pollination, they are the most numerous by far compared to any other species.

Why Bee Pollination Is Important

How bees pollinate is about so much more than just helping plants reproduce. There are many widespread effects on the entire food chain that begin with bee pollination.

In fact, about one out of every three bites on our plates every day are the result of bee pollination. Without these busy bees, we would lose a lot of the food we rely on as humans.

Pollen on a Bee

Manual or artificial pollination isn’t feasible on a large scale, and it’s very difficult to replicate the efficient and effective way bees pollinate. This makes it unrealistic to think that we could replace the function pollinating bees perform.

Bees are also the most common type of pollinator, doing most of the heavy lifting for all pollinating species.

What Makes Bees Good Pollinators

Bees are very specially evolved to carry out this specific task, and that’s why they are the most numerous type of pollinator on earth.

Worker bees, known as foragers, spend all day out collecting nectar and pollen to nourish their colony. They visit thousands of flowers each day and can fly as far as five miles from their hive to find resources. Because of their small size, they can access a wide variety of flowers that are too small for other animals to get into.

As the bees climb into the flower, they pack pollen dust into the hairs on their legs and stay there because of electrostatic energy. These hairs evolved just for this purpose.

Pollen on Bees' legs

Bees will visit just a single type of flower at a time, collecting only that specific type of pollen. This means the pollen they’re spreading around is going to the right kinds of flowers and isn’t wasted. Cross-pollination is the only way many plants are able to reproduce.

Bees also earned their reputation as being busy for good reason. They are very industrious and work very hard to keep their colony healthy and strong. If the weather is good enough, you can bet pollinator bees will be out and about gathering as many resources as possible.

Plants That Benefit from Bee Pollination

It would be impossible to list all the plants that are able to grow, survive, and reproduce as a result of bee pollination.

Most of the crops we rely on have bees to thank, including everything from veggies to fruit trees to grasses and grains. Most flowering plants reproduce with help from pollinators, and the vast majority of plants we consume bear flowers.

Helping Bees Pollinate

It’s absolutely essential that we do everything we can to help keep bee pollinator populations remain healthy and robust. There are many different ways individuals can make the world a bit safer for these species.

Avoiding pesticides or at least limiting their use is one major way. Pesticides don’t discriminate between insects, so crucial pollinator bees are susceptible to chemicals that were applied to keep other harmful bugs away. If you really need to use pesticides, apply them only where you really need them and use sparingly.

A big green lawn is beautiful and appealing for many people, but it does nothing for pollinators. Not only does grass not sprout flowers, but lawns also require a lot of water to stay thick and lush, which could be put to better use.

Ditch the lawn and opt for flowering plants, which offer important resources for species that need pollen and nectar from flowers. Native plants and wildflowers are especially helpful for bee and other pollinator populations. They’re attracted to bright colors and will be happy to find a patch of wildflowers.

Bees and Butterflies on Flowers

Gardens are also great for pollinators, and pollinating bees are good for your garden too. They’ll pollinate all your plants for you, helping them grow robust produce you can enjoy from your own backyard.

Finally, don’t be afraid of bees! Honey bees, in particular, are rarely aggressive, especially when they’re out looking for flowers. They can only sting once, so it’s unlikely that they would lose their life unless they felt their colony was under immediate threat.

Most bee species either would rather not or are unable to sting you. Even larger species will usually try to intimidate you with loud buzzing, but they may not even have stingers.

What most people are really afraid of are wasps and hornets, which are known for their aggressive behavior. They can also sting multiple times without dying and can look very similar to less scary bees. While they can get mean, these species also help out with pollination.

Do All Bees Pollinate?

While bees are the most abundant type of pollinator, not every bee can perform this essential function. In a hive of honey bees, only some of them are responsible for pollination.

All female worker bees will forage for their colony. Foraging is their final job in the hive after other tasks such as nursing, queen attending, and others throughout their lifetime.

This means only the oldest female honey bees in the hive go out to forage. These worker bees will continue to fly out of the hive to gather resources until they are no longer able to and eventually die.

Bees in a Hive

Male bees, or drones, and queen bees do not pollinate. They only leave the hive for mating purposes and do not visit flowers for any reason. Even still, they rely on the pollen and nectar brought back by forager bees to keep them well-fed and healthy.

As far as bee species go, any bee that gathers resources from flowers is considered a pollinator. This means non-pollinating bees are much less common than pollinating bees since this family of insects generally needs nectar and pollen in some capacity to thrive.

Understanding How Bees Pollinate Can Help the Planet

It’s so important to understand the immeasurable impact of pollinators, especially bees.

Without them, we would lose a lot of the food we eat every day, and the environment would suffer profoundly. Bees may be small, but they’re a necessary part of the ecosystem.

They have no idea how important they are, and it’s up to us to make sure they get what they need to keep going.
Bees are capable of so many amazing things! Continue your bee education for even more incredible facts about these insects on our honey bee page.