American Bumblebee — Pollination
Plants and pollinators have a unique connection. Insects collect nectar, while at the same time, providing pollination for the plant. This relationship is essential for both insect and plant to survive.
In North America it is believed that 30-40% of food for human consumption originates from plants pollinated by bees. Honeybees are generally thought of as the most common pollinator, and they are the most widely studied, but bumblebees are the chief pollinators of red clover, alfalfa, field beans, peas, runner beans, tomatoes, and in some areas cotton, raspberries, apples, plum blossom, grape oilseed, sunflowers, strawberries, currants and brambles.
Bumblebees are extremely important pollinators for flowering plants. As domesticated honeybee numbers decline, wild bumblebee colonies take on additional importance. A crucial part of wildlife ecosystems, bumblebees pollinate plants as they seek out food, nectar and pollen from flowers. Bee pollination is called melittophily.
Bumblebees: Built for Pollination:
1. Bumblebees’ hairy exterior coat and furry legs easily pick up pollen to transfer to other plants. Often, as is the case with raspberry pollination, bumblebees pick up more pollen than honeybees.
2. Some types of bumblebees have long tongues, enabling them to pollinate flowers with long, narrow corollas. This draws them to plants such as bean and pea crops, and red clover, which they are adept at pollinating.
3. Bumblebees have long pollinating seasons. They are among the first of the bee species to emerge in the year, and some species may forage until November. Since they can fly at lower temperatures than many other bee species, they are quite essential to the pollination of early and winter crops.
4. Bumblebees pollinate quickly, visiting on average twice as many flowers per minute than honeybees. Also, the ability to regulate their body temperatures allows bumblebees to be active in a wider range of climate conditions, enabling them to forage for up to two times as long as a honeybee.
5. Bumblebees are capable of ‘buzz pollination,’ or sonication, in which the bumblebee places its thorax (upper body) close to the anthers of a flower, and vibrates its flight muscles. This vibration shakes the pollen from the anthers, and enables highly efficient pollination of soft fruit such as tomatoes, kiwi fruit and cranberries. This is also especially beneficial in blueberry and strawberry pollination. Even where crops can be self-pollinated (as in some tomatoes), they produce a higher yield and bigger fruits with the aid of pollinating bumblebees. Many plants depend solely on bees for pollination because their anthers release pollen internally, so it must be shaken out by sonication, Bees are the only animals with this unique ability.