Buzz Pollination – The Bumblebee’s Secret Knock

It is well known that many plants produce flowers with sweet nectar to attract insects and birds, which get their nourishment and, at the same time, collect pollen and deliver it to other flowers, so the plants may reproduce.  What is truly fascinating is to observe the level of specialization of certain species, such as members of the tomato family (Solanaceae), which not only do not produce nectar, but keep their pollen locked inside their flower anthers, until the right carrier comes along.  Bumblebees are some of the few insects with enough ingenuity to access this type of flowers, and hence, more likely to coddiwomple to another flower of the same species afterwards, thus increasing the chances of delivering the precious pollen where it will be viable for a successful pollination.  The process is called buzz pollination; the bumblebee holds on to the flower, and the fast agitation of its flight muscles while biting down on the flower’s anthers, produces a vibration that stimulates the flower to release its pollen.  Bumblebees have been doing a remarkable job of buzz pollination with the Solanaceae in my garden, especially my eggplant (photo at the top of the post) and tomatillos (photo below); notice the pollen attached to the bumblebee’s body and the light coloured patch on its leg, which is a sticky sac to carry more pollen:

bumble bee releasing pollen from tomatillo flower

I did not have the proper conditions to record a video, but PBS’ Deep Look has this wonderful short episode on buzz pollination: This Vibrating Bumblebee Unlocks a Flower’s Hidden Treasure

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