Honey bee hairs and pollenkitt are essential for pollen capture and removal

Bioinspir Biomim. 2017 Mar 23;12(2):026015. doi: 10.1088/1748-3190/aa5c6e.


While insect grooming has been observed and documented for over one hundred years, we present the first quantitative analysis of this highly dynamic process. Pollinating insects, like honey bees, purposely cover themselves with millions of pollen particles that, if left ungroomed, would make sensing and controlled flight difficult. How do they get clean? We show that the hairs on insect eyes are tuned to the pollen they collect; namely, the hairs are spaced so that they suspend pollen above the body for easy removal by the forelegs. In turn, hair spacing on the foreleg dictates the leg's ability to store the pollen removed during each swipe. In tests with wax-covered honey bees, we show that hairy forelegs are necessary for pollen removal. Moreover, the viscous fluid found on the surface of pollen grains, or pollenkitt, greatly enhances adhesion. We find that bees accumulate twice as much pollen if pollenkitt is present. This study may help further understand pollination, as well as inform designs for mechanically-sensitive functional surfaces with micro- and nano-structures that are easier to keep clean.

MeSH terms

  • Adhesiveness
  • Animals
  • Bees / anatomy & histology*
  • Bees / physiology*
  • Biomimetic Materials*
  • Grooming / physiology*
  • Hair
  • Pollen*
  • Pollination*
  • Robotics*
  • Video Recording
  • Viscosity