Over half of our native bee species can perform this skill. And even though only a small portion of plants (between 6 to 8%) rely on this type of pollination, that’s an estimated 20,000 species of flowering plants in 64 plant families. It’s also important for several agricultural products including tomatoes and blueberries.
Buzz pollination has strangely evolved independently many times over in both bees and plants. And yet honeybees, our key agricultural pollinators, don’t have this skill.
So, how does “buzz pollination” work? After a female bee carefully selects the right flower, she’ll grab an anther with her mandibles. For flowers like rhododendrons, larger bees like bumblebees may also wrap their legs around the stamens. After the grab, she creates thoracic vibrations with indirect flight muscles that result in an audible soft buzz. As she reaches a high enough frequency and amplitude, if the plant is ready, pollen will release in an explosion from pores in the anthers. The bee is rewarded with a nice quantity of pollen to make her job of gathering pollen a little easier.