It was an unusually warm day yesterday. The girls in their respective hives broke cluster for cleansing and orientation flights. The above photo shows them flying into a bucket filled with pollen.
Even though pollen is a major irritant for people suffering from allergies, it is an essential nutrient for young bees in the hive and plays a key role in larval development. Pollen mainly consists of protein but also has lipids, vitamins, and minerals. It is consumed by nurse bees who digest and use its molecular content to secrete royal jelly from their hypopharyngeal glands. The jelly, in turn, is initially fed to the three castes of bees – workers, drones and prospective queens all receive royal jelly for the first three days of their lives as a larva. Only aspiring queens receive royal jelly for the entire duration as larvae. After three days, workers and drones are fed a mixture of bee bread and honey until they spin cocoons and their cells are capped. Bee bread is a blend of whole pollen, honey, and enzymes.
Occasionally, foraging bees will carry both pollen and honey, but the payload can be overwhelming. Thus, most bees ferry either pollen or nectar. A single bee can maintain flight control carrying half her body weight in pollen. She stuffs it into receptacles called corbiculae or, pollen sacks on her hind legs. A honeybee is hardwired to forage on just one type of flower or plant during each trip from the hive. This assures cross-pollination for any one particular species. Ergo, if a bee starts out visiting blueberry bushes in a field that also has clover as ground cover, it will continue visiting only blueberry flowers. Bees will also collect pollen from plants that don’t provide much nectar. Here in the Appalachia’s, the red maple tree is the first major bloom of the spring. The red maple is not a honey producer, but this single event, starting around March 5th signals the queen to begin laying eggs in earnest in preparation for the first honey flow. Unfortunately, honeybees collect pollen from agriculture such as corn that is laden with pesticides and fungicides. On our mountaintop, the girls don’t have to worry about poisons because we are surrounded by the Pisgah National Forest with no crops within flight distance from their hives.