Head-banging Bees Make a Buzz
Blue-banded bees have an interesting method of pollination: high-speed head banging. Like the lead guitarist of a heavy metal band, these Australian bees can vibrate their heads 350 times per second to release more pollen into the air and maximise their intake. This outlandish behavior was recently caught on tape by researchers from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT University), the University of Adelaide, Harvard University and the University of California, Davis.
“We were absolutely surprised. We were so buried in the science of it, we never thought about something like this. This is something totally new,” Dr. Katja Hogendoorn, bee specialist from the School of Agriculture, Food and Wine at the University of Adelaide, explained in a news release, adding that this is the first time the phenomenon had been observed.
Originally, the study was aimed at comparing the pollination methods of the Australian blue-banded bee and the North American bumblebee, which is commonly used for commercial pollination of tomato plants. However, when researchers began recording the audio frequency and duration of the blue-banded bee’s buzzing, they discovered the Australian bees can vibrate flowers at an increased rate and ultimately spend less time pollinating each flower.
“Our earlier research has shown that blue-banded bees are effective pollinators of greenhouse tomatoes,” Hogendoorn said in a statement. “This new finding suggests that blue-banded bees could also be very efficient pollinators — needing fewer bees per hectare.”
Comparatively, North American bumblebees grab the anther of a tomato plant flower with their mandibles before tensing their wing muscles to shake the pollen out, researchers added.
Their findings, recently published in the journal Arthropod-Plant Interactions, could pave the way for advances in crop pollination and development of miniature flying robots.