Pollen is an example of one of the wonderful products which bees produce and man has been exploiting for thousands of years. Bees collect it in addition to the nectar they need to make honey. It is very rich in protein which is needed to promote the growth of larvae. It’s well known that honeybees are extremely important for plant pollination.
The bee combs the grains off its body with its back legs. It is formed into pellets on the leg hairs, or pollen baskets. As the worker flies from flower to flower it collects more, but also drops some grains, brought from a different bloom, inside the flower, which fertilizes it.
When the worker returns to the hive, the pellets are removed by house bees who moisten it with nectar and pack them into cells in an arch over the brood nest.
The protein rich food is used by the colony by mixing it with nectar to form a paste, sometimes known as bee bread, to feed to the developing larvae. The larvae grow at an incredible rate, fueled by the protein, multiplying it’s initial weight many times in the course of the few days before it is capped over by the workers to being its metamorphosis from larva to adult form.As with so many systems in nature, both the flower and the bee benefit from the process. The bee gets protein, and carbohydrates in the form of nectar. The plant is cross pollinated, enabling it to produce fruit and eventually seeds. The benefits which man receives is incidental to the process, apart from the fact that he has been encouraged to transport bees to every part of the world in enormous numbers.
Beekeepers sometimes attach a trap to the hive entrance, consisting of a screen with a grid just large enough for the workers to squeeze through. As the worker enters, the pellets are knocked off her legs to be retrieved and sold as a natural food supplement by the beekeeper.
It’s very important that the screen is not left on the hive entrance for too long for several reasons. If the workers are not allowed to keep any to feed their larvae it will, at best, set back the build-up of worker numbers and at worst jeopardize the very survival of the colony.
If the queen has to leave the hive to mate she will not be able to get through the screen. The window of opportunity for the queen to mate is quite short, perhaps as short as two weeks. If she is delayed her ability to produce fertilized eggs may be diminished.
Drones are larger than workers and of course cannot pass through the screen. They die trying to leave the hive, and clog the entrance.
The screens also tend to damage the wings of the workers, this makes it harder for them to fly and so reducing their life span. Harvesting in this way can have a huge cost for the hive, and of course for the beekeeper in lost bees and honey production.
Many people believe that eating pollen from flowers in their neighbourhood helps lessen the effects of allergies. It’s another example of the wonderful products which bees produce.