Bumble bees are born with the ability to vibrate flowers and buzz pollen loose, and they get better at it over time.
Those were the key findings from a study published in the Journal of Insect Behavior by scientists from the University of Stirling.
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The process examined in the the study is called buzz pollination, the buzzing itself known as sonication. Bumble bees basically just grab onto the pollen-producing anther of the flower with their mandibles and then vibrate their muscles to shake loose the pollen. (Other types of bee, including carpenters, do it, although honey bees can't.)
Led by evolutionary biologist Mario Vallejo-Marin, researchers from the university observed bumble bees interacting for the first time with flowers that would only release their pollen with a good shake.
Having never done it before, the bees vibrated the flowers instinctively.
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What's more, they got better at this innate behavior with practice.
"Over time and with practice, bees are able to tune down their vibrations, removing pollen while potentially saving energy," Vallejo-Marin said in a press release.
"Initially bees tend to vibrate on the flower petals," he explained, "but after two or three visits they focus their efforts exclusively on the part of the flower where pollen is produced."
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While bumble bees' nectar-collecting smarts are well understood, this changing of their vibration while in search of pollen is new, say the researchers. It also proves, they add, that bee buzzes made during flight and pollen collecting are distinct from each other acoustically.
"Gaining this insight into how bumblebee pollination behavior is innate, and yet perfected through learning, is essential to comprehend the complexity of pollination services provided by bees," said Vallejo-Marin.
"Only by studying how bees achieve these specialised behaviors," he added, "can we can really understand the consequences of declining bee populations for natural and agricultural systems."
Speaking of pollen collection, revisit this Australian blue-banded bee, in case you missed it at the end of last year. It was documented banging its head on flowers at up to 350 timer per second. Here it is in action: