National Honey Bee Day – August 18th

August 18th was National Honey Bee day in the USA, but what’s all the buzz about? Pollinators play vital roles in plant communities, including carrying pollen from plant to plant. How does that work? How do honey bees know which flowers need their help? How do they communicate with other bees? All of that and more to come on this special #WetlandWednesday!

There are many kinds of pollinators, from birds to bugs to bats! A mutualistic relationship between pollinators and flowering plants allows the pollinators to collect food and allows the plant to spread its pollen to other individuals. Different animals have different strategies of carrying pollen. Honey bees use some very complex methods of finding, harvesting, and spreading pollen within plant communities. There are almost 20,000 described species of bees; some live in colonies and some do not, some pollinate only one plant species and some pollinate multiple species. The most cultivated of the honey bees (genus: Apis), the Eastern Honey Bee (A. mellifera), is a colonial bee species that does not specialize on one plant. In flight, bees build up an electrostatic charge on their fine, branched hairs. When bees climb into flowers looking for sugary nectar, their charged hairs attract pollen even from a couple of millimeters away! The charge and the branches in their hairs help to keep the pollen attached when the bee leaves in search of its next bounty of sugar.

How do honey bees find flowers? Using a combination of visual, chemical, and communicated clues, bees are highly specialized to find the flowers that are just right for them. Compound eyes do not have the high definition visuals that human eyes have, but they can see ultraviolet light. Some flowers have ultraviolet patterns on their petals called “nectar guides”. [1] When in flight, bees will not always see color, but they can still see shapes and can recognize nectar guide shapes, as well as smell aromas from the flowers. Bees can also communicate instructions or coordinates for finding flowers through “waggle dancing”! [2]

Honey bees pollinate throughout wetlands across the world and have major positive impacts on ecosystem health. Native trees and shrubs of Louisiana that are dependent on pollinators like the European honey bee include Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera), Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora, our Louisiana state flower), and Dwarf Palmetto (Sabal minor). Some smaller flowers that need bee pollinators include Wooly Rosemallow (Hibiscus lasiocarpus), Coneflower (Rudbeckia triloba), and Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans). [3] Honey bees are also vital in pollinating about 90% of agricultural crops nationwide! Without pollinators, our Louisiana wetlands would not be as productive and vibrant as they are, and we need the help of pollinators to #ProtectOurCoast!

 

[1] https://www.bumblebee.org/bodyEyehtm.htm

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waggle_dance

[3] http://pollinator.org/guides

Featured image from https://www.louisianabeesanctuary.org/

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