26 November 2015

Colour-coded bees in your garden

It's now been 43 years that I've been plodding this earth, and I've only just made a discovery that had been right in front of my eyes all that time - if only I'd looked properly at bees.

I was almost embarrassed to share my delight, in case everyone else had always known this fact. But everyone I've told has been similarly surprised (although never quite as delighted as I am by it). Just maybe, I thought, you might also be thrilled to read about it, even if you already knew.

It is this: bees that have been collecting pollen end up with vividly coloured pollen baskets, the colour revealing which flowers they have been visiting.

See the full, purple pollen basket on the bee's right hind leg. The left one is also visible.

I'd been aware of bees' dull yellow pollen baskets for years, so I wondered what those vivid purple lumps were on either side of the bumblebees patronising our phacelia patch. Could it be the pollen of those purple flowers, I wondered? Then along came a honeybee with bright yellow baskets, possibly from another person's yellow flower patch.

Then, out the front of our house on our uproariously flowering flaxes, were many bees with flamboyant orange pollen baskets - and indeed the flax flowers were tipped with the same hue.

Dwarf flax flowers. It looks to me as though some of the flowers have bright orange pollen, and some a very pale, almost white pollen. I don't know how that's possible on the same plant, but the camera is showing that it is! The bees I spotted on the flowers certainly had orange pollen baskets. 

Did you know that flying around your garden are bees with colourful jewels that reveal which flowers they've been frequenting?

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