A little Australian bee uses some pretty hard-rock methods to shake out a flower’s pollen — it head bangs.
Scientists have never seen anything like this and were astonished to watch the Australian blue-banded bee’s extreme pollination method, Discovery News reported.
“We were absolutely surprised. We were so buried in the science of it, we never thought about something like this. This is something totally new,” said expert Katja Hogendoorn from the University of Adelaide.
The Aussie University discovered these unusual methods alongside the University of California, Harvard, and RMIT.
Scientists’ initial goal was to compare the North American bumblebee to the blue-banded bee, which is native to Australia. Bumblebees are known as excellent tomato-plant pollinators, and since the island nation doesn’t have any, they mechanically pollinate their tomatoes.
Turns out, their own native flier is even better at the job with its super-fast method. Scientists figured this by watching the insects pollinate a cherry tomato bloom.
“Tomatoes (and many Australian native plants) are ‘buzz pollinated‘: the flower is like a salt and pepper shaker and bees shake the pollen out through pores in the anthers,” said Dr. Hogendoorn, according to ABC News.
Both bees buzz pollinate, but the American variety does it indirectly with their chest muscles. In the “old-fashioned way,” the bumblebees grab onto the part of the flower that produces pollen, called the anther, with their mandibles, then tense their wing muscles, and shake, the university explained.
The non-head-bang method allows the little bug to vibrate at 240 times per second. The Aussie has that beat. It shakes out the pollen with a super-fast head bang of about 350 times a second.
“This suggests that Australian blue-banded bees may be more efficient tomato pollinators than bumblebees,” Katja suggested.
The vibration caused by the head bang dislodges pollen and releases it into the air, United Press International explained.
The insect holds the flower with its legs and vibrates its thorax muscles, and this vibration is transferred to its head, which it then beats against the anther. The vibrations it uses to bang its head are the same ones it uses to propel its wings. The bee disengages its wings and uses that energy elsewhere.
The head bang was so fast that the heavy-metal motion could only be captured via slow motion video as it pollinated a cherry tomato flower.
To experts, this frantic head bang is a remarkable feat. Dr. Hogendoorn’s colleague, Dr. Sridhar Ravi from RMIT, was amazed.
“When you translate that to acceleration, it’s almost insane levels, among the highest we’ve noted in the animal kingdom.”
The finding also means that native bee is better at pollinating. Scientists were able to prove this by recording and studying the audio frequency and duration of its buzz during its head bang, which showed that the bee can spend less time at each flower.
Australian bees head bang hundreds of times a second for a good cause https://t.co/xbdbsDcXuX
— Nilesh Kumar (@nileshsirius) December 15, 2015
In other words, the Aussie bee pollinated more flowers and in less time than the North American bumblebee. This reinforced something scientists already knew thanks to past research — that blue-banded bees are pretty good at pollinating greenhouse tomatoes.
In other words, fewer bees would be needed to pollinate a hectare of crops, and in the future, this could help Australian farmers improve their crop pollination efficiency. The finding could also help scientists better understand muscular stress and even help them develop mini flying robots.
This is the first time the little bug’s unusual, extremely efficient, and probably headache-inducing methods have been documented and witnessed by scientists.
[Image via Shutterstock]