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Clean Bees

Closeup of a honeybee covered in pollen

Image: iStockphoto

By Jason Maderer

With the health of honeybee colonies wavering and researchers trying to find technological ways to pollinate plants, a new Georgia Tech study has looked at how the insects do their job and manage to stay clean.

A honeybee can carry up to 30 percent of its body weight in pollen because of the strategic spacing of its nearly three million hairs. The hairs cover the insect’s eyes and body in various densities that allow efficient cleaning and transport.

The research found that the gap between each eye hair is approximately the same size as a grain of dandelion pollen. This keeps the pollen suspended above the eye and allows the forelegs to comb through and collect the particles. Hair on the legs is packed five times more densely than the hair on the eyes, helping the legs collect as much pollen as possible with each swipe.

The research team tethered bees and used high-speed cameras to create the first quantified study of the honeybee cleaning process. They watched as the insects removed up to 15,000 particles from their bodies in three minutes.

“Without these hairs and their specialized spacing, it would be almost impossible for a honeybee to stay clean,” said Guillermo Amador, who led the study while pursuing his doctoral degree at Georgia Tech in mechanical engineering.

The research was supported by the National Science Foundation and published in the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics.

Related: Hair Spacing Keeps Honeybees Clean During Pollination, March 28, 2017

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