Friday, August 17, 2012

Follow a Pollinator

Every third bite you eat is made possible by a pollinator - a bee or moth or butterfly that moved pollen from one flower to another. Who are the pollinators in your neighborhood? Most likely bumblebees and other native bees - some so small that you may not even pay attention to them, and others that look kinda like honeybees.

Bees collect pollen to take back home, tucking it into "pollen baskets" on their legs. But they're a bit messy, and some pollen sticks to their feet and their face and the tiny hairs all over their body. So when they visit the next flower, some of that pollen gets brushed onto a stigma (the female flower part that receives pollen). The bee collects more pollen, visits the next flower and drops some more there, carrying pollen from one flower to the next until she heads home.

How many flowers does a bee visit when she's out on her pollen-collecting journey? You can find out by following a bee (but don't get so close that you bother her). If you want to make a map of bee journeys across your yard carry some flags and poke one in the ground near each flower a bee visits. [You can make flags by tying orange or pink surveyor's tape onto thin wires]

Can you pollinate as well as a bee? Grab a dry watercolor paint brush and try it. One of the easiest flowers to pollinate is cosmos. If you have two different colors of flowers, try moving the pollen from one cosmos (maybe an orange flower) to another (say, pink).  Tie a piece of yarn or ribbon to the flower stalk so later on you can collect the seeds. Then next year, plant the seeds and see what you end up with. [Watermelons, pumpkins, squash and cucumbers are also easy to hand pollinate - make sure you mark the stem of your fruit.]

Check out other STEM Friday resources here. And check out the Great Sunflower Project to see how you can become a citizen scientist studying pollinators.


  1. Great post, Sue. And what a lovely photo.

  2. Did you do the Great Bee Count over the weekend? I actually found 15 minutes to do a count and saw my first male leafcutter bee.

    Fun idea for a project!

    1. I did! it was pretty windy, but there were a few tenacious bumblebees about.