Biomechanics of pollen pellet removal by the honey bee

J R Soc Interface. 2021 Aug;18(181):20210549. doi: 10.1098/rsif.2021.0549. Epub 2021 Aug 25.


Honey bees (Apis mellifera) carry pollen back to their hive by mixing it with nectar and forming it into a pellet. The pellet must be firmly attached to their legs during flight, but also easily removable when deposited in the hive. How does the honey bee achieve these contrary aims? In this experimental study, we film honey bees removing pollen pellets and find they peel them off at speeds 2-10 times slower than their typical grooming speeds. Using a self-built pollen scraper, we find that slow removal speeds reduce the force and work required to remove the pellet under shear stress. Creep tests on individual pollen pellets revealed that pollen pellets are viscoelastic materials characterized by a Maxwell model with long relaxation times. The relaxation time enables the pellet to remain a solid during both transport and removal. We hope that this work inspires further research into viscoelastic materials in nature.

Keywords: honey bee; pollen; pollination; viscoelastic.