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22nd of November 2017

Science



Honeybees fumble their way to blueberry pollination

DENVER — Honeybees may be the world’s most famous pollinator, but a new study shows that blueberry blooms reduce the insects to improvisational klutzes. Not useless ones though.

Pollination specialists have realized that the pollen haul found in hives of Apis mellifera honeybees has little, if any, from blueberry flowers, ecologist George Hoffman said November 5 at the Entomology 2017 meeting. Yet big commercial blueberry growers bring in hives of honeybees in the belief that the insects will help wild pollinators and boost the berry harvest.

It isn’t easy for honeybees to stick their heads into jar-shaped blueberry flowers, which narrow at the top, to get at the nectar. Nor do honeybees do the buzz-in-place move that some other bees use to shake pollen out of the pores on the blueberry flower anthers.

Still, fumbling honeybees often get blueberry pollen on their bodies as they grab and stretch, sometimes even poking a leg down into a bloom. In more than 60 percent of bee visits analyzed, a leg brushed against the receptive female part of the flower, Hoffman, of Oregon State University in Corvallis, found. And more of the pollen sticks to their legs than to the more usual pollination pickup spots around the bees’ heads, he observed (SN: 9/30/17, p. 32).    

Honeybees certainly are pollinating blueberries, Hoffman concludes, but he has seen them scrape blueberry pollen down their legs and then kick the gob away. The stuff doesn’t end up in their hive, he speculates, because for some reason “they don’t like it.”

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