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Airdate: May 22, 1998
Scientist: Jerry Rozen

Bees: Buzz Pollination

Bees: Buzz Pollination
Certain plants require bees to vibrate their flower with a buzzing noise to release the pollen.

You probably recognize this sound as belonging to a bee, but what you might not have guessed is what this particular sound is used for. I'm Jim Metzner and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by the American Museum of Natural History.

Typically, bees collect pollen (as a food) when they land in the inner area of a flower. Pollen is produced in flowering plants in organs called anthers. In most plants, the pollen in the anther is accessible, but in certain plants (such as the eggplant) it's relatively inaccessible, because the anthers are tubular with an opening on only one end. And getting pollen out requires a little extra effort.

"The bee when it land on the flower wants to get those pollen grains but the only opening to this long tube is a pore at the end of the tube."

Jerome Rozen is curator at the American Museum of Natural History.

"And so what the bee does is it clings onto the flower and thereby tips the flower over and gives a buzzing sound that is.. very intense. And the whole idea is that the bee is using its indirect flight muscles to cause a vibration and the vibration basically unclogs the pollen grains which are stuck like rice in a straw and they come pouring out."

If you listen carefully, it's not so difficult to distinguish between the normal buzz of a bee in flight and the more vigorous sound of buzz pollination.

"There's the flight of the bee that's sort of a (SOUND OF BUZZING) but then when it lands on the flower and vibrates it, it goes (SOUND OF BUZZING, DIFFERENT PATTERN) that's the more intense sound is the buzzing of the bee. It's not flying. It's not moving its wings. The wings are pointed over its back, but it's moving those indirect flight muscles to vibrate, and thereby dislodge the pollen that's stuck in the anther area of the plant."

We'll hear more about bees in future programs. Additional funding for Pulse of the Planet has been provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.