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Shake Rattle & Role: BUZZ Pollination

Karl Foord, Extension Educator - Horticulture

I recently had the rare privilege of traveling to Tucson, Arizona to visit the laboratory of Dr. Dan Papaj. I worked with Dr. Stephen Buchmann (author of several fine books) and Avery Russell to photograph buzz pollination of Solanum species flowers by the Common Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens).

Buzz pollination occurs when an insect visiting a flower uses vibration to extract pollen from the anthers of a flower. This is accomplished by the insect activating their wing muscles without flying. This vibration shakes the anthers of the flower causing pollen to pore out the end of the anther; anthers having pores at their end are called porical for this reason.

This is not an isolated occurrence as some 15,000 to 20,000 plant species have pores or slits at the end of their anthers. Also some 50 genera of bees possess the capability to accomplish buzz pollination. Interestingly enough, honey bees are not capable of buzz pollination.

Poricidal anthers are often found on flowers that also lack nectaries, and flowers that have developed anthers of different lengths facilitating pollen dispersal on the pollinating insect.

Middle C on the piano is 262 Hz (beats per second) and A above middle C is 440 Hz (the tone orchestras use to tune their instruments). The peak frequency used in buzz pollination is in between these two frequencies at 330 Hz. Buzz pollination also produces lesser peaks at the five harmonic frequencies above 330 e.g. 660, 990, 1320, and 1650.

I have produced a video of buzz pollination filmed with a high speed camera that allows one to actually see the shaking of the bee. Under normal circumstances this would only be visible as a blur. The bees were filmed at 1,000 frames per second meaning that they have been slowed down by a factor of 33.3.

Please enjoy the video!
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