Aussie Bee Head-Butts Flowers 350 Times Per Second

The country's native blue-banded bees take a unique approach to pollination.

Australian blue-banded bees have been observed taking a unique, hard-rock approach to pollination: They head-bang flowers at an astonishing rate - up to 350 times per second.

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The headache-y news comes courtesy of a new study out of the University of California, Davis, Harvard University, the University of Adelaide, and RMIT University that compared Australia's native blue-banded bee with the North American bumblebee, using tomato plants to see how each went about its pollination business.

The bumblebees grabbed hold of the flower's anther (the pollen-producing part) with their tiny mandibles and shook out pollen the old-fashioned way.

But the Aussie bees had another idea.

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The blue-banded rockers were able to shake more pollen free from a flower, and spend less time at it, by head-butting it at such high speed that only slow-motion video could help mere mortals appreciate what they were doing:

click to play video

In short, the Aussie bees got more done than the bumblebees, in less time.

Researchers said such behavior in a bee had never before been documented.

"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," said University of Adelaide bee specialist Katja Hogendoorn.

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Bumblebees are normally top-notch tomato-plant pollinators, but mainland Australia lacks the chubby little fliers. Instead, they mechanically pollinate their tomatoes Down Under.

Hogendoorn said past research had already shown that blue-banded bees were able pollinators of greenhouse tomatoes and that this discovery ups the ante.

"This new finding suggests that blue-banded bees could also be very efficient pollinators -- needing fewer bees per hectare," Hogendoom said.

The researchers said their work could help improve crop pollination efficiency and may also have applications for miniature aerial robots. Their findings will be published in an upcoming edition of the print journal Arthropod-Plant Interactions.

The U.S. Geological Survey is posting photos of insects on its

Flickr page

, offering a macro look at this hidden world. First up, this Festive Tiger Beetle (

Cicindela scutellaris

) was found on top of a butte in Badlands National Park that had ancient windblown sand at its crest. Here, this sand specialist can build its long burrows.

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This Agapostemon bee species is one of the most common native bees in the eastern United States. In almost any field there can be hundreds, if not thousands, of these bees visiting a wide variety of blooming plants. One of the largest of the sweat bees, it still goes undetected if you don't get down on your knees, face close, among the flowers. This one was collected at Colorado National Monument, Mesa County, Colo.

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This wild bee (

Hoplitis fulgida

), a female from Grand Tetons National Park, was collected as part of a study of climate change. Most species in this genus are black , but a few, like this one, are as the Latin in name implies, glittering jewels.

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This unknown wasp was collected in Cecil County, Md.

This is an unknown species of Robber Fly from Charles County, Md. Robber flies, a very large and widespread type of fly, feed on many different kinds of insects, making them a key player in maintaining the insect balance in different environments.

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One species of the rarely seen leafcutting bee, this is

Megachile integrella

from the sandhills of North Carolina. Leafcutter bees are so called because they cut plant leaves to create the cells in their nests. The bees tend to build their homes in rotted wood or in the strong stems of plants.

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Phidippus clarus

is a type of jumping spider. This one was found in Beltsville, Md., but

Phidippus clarus

lives in fields and prairies across North America. It feeds on seasonal plants.

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Eggplant Tortoise Beetles like eggplants (go figure), eating holes in the plants' leaves. From the underside, the insects look quite queenly, with their ruffled collars. This one was gathered at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, in Anne Arundel County, Md.

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The Karner blue butterfly,

Lycaeides melissa samuelis

, is endangered. Karner blue butterflies feed on nectar from many different types of flowers, but their larvae can survive on the leaves of only one specific plant, which has been decimated by habitat loss or change.

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Deer flies like this one, despite their groovy eyes, deliver a ferocious bite. And no wonder: when the female bites (males don't bite), she lacerates the skin and when the blood flows, sponges it up with her mouth. There are over 110 species of deer fly.

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Centris bees, like this one, make their homes in holes, either in trees or in the ground.

The biggest visual difference between damselflies and dragonflies are their wing positions when resting. Dragonflies hold their wings open, while damselflies close them above their backs. This Ebony Jewelwing Damselfly (

Calopteryx maculata

) was found on a Beltsville, Md. stream.