Bees experience forces 30 times greater than gravity as they buzz for pollen — near the limit of human endurance, notes the New York Times in an article about buzz pollination.
Buzz pollination is much like what its name suggests: Bee approaches flower, grabs on, buzzes with all of its might, flower resists until, poof, pollen everywhere.
Most flowering plants rely on pollen being delivered to another to fertilize seeds. Some plants – to the chagrin of allergy sufferers everywhere – do so by casting their pollen to the wind. Other plants depend on an army of pollinators – bees, birds, bats – to do their pollen bidding for them.
Some of these pollinator-dependent plants entice animals to their pollen-y chambers with the promise of nectar, the pollen then hitches a ride to the next flower. But there is a whole host of plant species, like tomatoes and potatoes and others, that have a different arrangement. The attraction here is the pollen itself, which is offered as protein-rich food. And rather than make it easily accessible, which would be detrimental as it would offer pollinators and non-pollinators alike an all-you-can-eat buffet, it keeps that pollen squirrelled away in deep tubes.
Which is where buzz pollination comes in. Bumblebees are one of the few bees that can do this; certain other insects have the gift as well, but it’s definitely a specialized talent. The insect grabs the tube with its jaws and starts vibrating the pollen-filled goldmine hundreds of times a second.
“It has to hold on, because the vibrations are so strong that otherwise it could come flying off the flower,” says Mario Vallejo-Marín of the University of Stirling in Scotland, who has studied the behavior.
The animals produce a peculiar buzz with this technique, notes The Times. “It sounds like a bee is giving you a raspberry,” says Stephen Buchmann of the University of Arizona. In fact, they’re creating resonating vibrations to loosen the pollen grains inside the tubes. “The bees are turning themselves into living tuning forks,” he adds.
And indeed, it's a site (or sound) to behold, as can be seen in this slow-motion clip from Smithsonian Channl. Amazing!