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Bumblebee behavior and buzz pollination

Bumblebees are a lot like big honeybees in terms of behavior.  The major differences are that bumblebees have smaller colonies which start from scratch each spring since only the queen overwinters. has a nice rundown on their life cycle and foraging behavior, for those who are interested.

Like honeybees, bumblebees are generalists which pollinate a long list of plant species.  But bumblebees are especially important for a few species of plants --- notably tomatoes and blueberries --- which require buzz pollination. 
These plants have pollen which doesn't easily brush off the anthers of the flowers.  Instead, bumblebees have to land on the flowers and vibrate their flight muscles, causing a buzz which knocks the pollen loose.

Honeybees don't buzz, so buzz pollinated plants pretty much depend on bumblebees.  Greenhouse tomato growers have experimented with using vibrators to pollinate their tomatoes, but finally settled on bumblebees as the easier and cheaper solution.

This post is part of our Bumblebee lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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