How do Bees Store Pollen in the Hive?

Sep 2, 2020


When the bee has fully loaded its baskets and before it returns to the hive it often spends a little time upon the plant from which it has been collecting, occupied with the task of cleaning scattered grains of pollen from its body and of patting down securely the loads which it has obtained.

Upon its return to the hive it hurries within and seeks for a suitable place in which to deposit the pollen. Some returning bees walk leisurely over the combs and loiter among their sister workers, while others appear to be greatly agitated, shaking their bodies and moving their wings as though highly excited. Many pollen-bearing bees appear eager to receive food upon their return to the hive, and they will solicit it from other workers or take it from the honey-storage cells.

The workers of the hive at times take a little of the fresh pollen from the baskets of the laden bee, nibbling it off with their mandibles or rasping off grains with their tongues.

If the combs of a colony are examined, stored pollen will be found in various parts of the hive. In the brood frames the greatest amount is located above and at the sides of the brood and between this and the stored honey. Cells scattered through the brood from which young bees have lately emerged may also contain pollen. In the outer frames of the hive, where brood is less likely to be found, nearly all of the cells may be packed with pollen, or honey-storage cells may be found interspersed with those filled with pollen. As a rule pollen is not stored in drone comb, although this occasionally happens.

As the pollen-bearing bee crawls over the combs it appears to be searching for a suitable cell in which to leave its load. It sticks the head into cell after cell until finally one is located which meets its requirements, although it is an open question as to why any one of a group should be chosen rather than another. This selected cell may already contain some pollen or it may be empty. If partly filled, the pollen which it contains is likely to be from the same species of plant as that which the bee carries, although different kinds of pollen are often stored in the same cell.

In preparation for the act of unloading the bee grasps one edge of the cell with its forelegs and arches its abdomen so that the posterior end of the abdomen rests upon the opposite side of the cell. The body is thus held firmly and is braced by these two supports with the head and anterior thoracic region projecting over one of the neighboring cells. The hind legs are thrust down into the cell and hang freely within it, the pollen masses being held on a level with the outer edge of the cell, or slightly above it. The middle leg of each side is raised and its planta is brought into contact with the upper (proximal) end of the tibia of the same side and with the pollen mass. The middle leg now presses downward upon the pollen mass, working in between it and the corbicular surface, so that the mass is shoved outward and downward and falls into the cell. As the pollen masses drop, the middle legs are raised and their claws find support upon the edge of the cell. The hind legs now execute cleansing movements to remove small bits of pollen which still cling to the corbicular surfaces and hairs.

After this is accomplished the bee usually leaves the cell without paying further attention to the two pellets of pollen although some collecting bees will stick the head into the cell, possibly to assure themselves that the pollen is properly deposited. It has been stated by some (Cheshire, for example) that the spur upon the middle leg is used to help pry the pollen mass from the corbicula. This structure is in close proximity with the mass while the middle leg is pushing downward upon it, but its small size renders difficult an exact estimate of its value in this connection. It is certainly true that the entire planta of the middle leg is thrust beneath the upper end of the pollen mass, but the spur may be used as an entering wedge.

Pollen masses which have been dropped by the collecting bee may remain for some time within the cell without further treatment, but usually another worker attends to the packing of the pollen shortly after it has been deposited.

To accomplish this the worker enters the cell head first, seizes the pollen pellets with its mandibles, breaks them up somewhat or flattens them out, probably mingles additional fluid with the pollen, and tamps down the mass securely in the bottom of the cell. As is shown by the analyses of corbicular pollen and of stored pollen, certain substances are added to the pollen after the collecting bee leaves it in the cell. Sugar is certainly added, and it is generally supposed that secretions from some of the salivary glands are mixed with the pollen after deposition.

It appears probable that the stored pollen or “beebread” is changed somewhat in chemical composition through the action of the fluids which have been added to it, either during the process of collection, at the time of packing, or later.

Source: The Behavior of the Honey Bee in Pollen Collection, by D. B. Casteel (University of Texas.). This work is dutifully reproduced under Public Domain law from the eBook release on Project Gutenberg. Text remains verbatim with permissible edits to paragraph formatting and inclusion of relevant URLs.

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